Fire prevention takes front seat

By Gus Bode

Week promotes several precautionary measures for college students

Each year, there are nearly 1,700 fires on college campuses across the country, including one that seriously injured a student at Abbott Hall and another that destroyed eight apartments in Evergreen Terrace last year.

In the wake of National Fire Prevention Week, officials are encouraging students to take these numbers seriously, particularly since many college students are living away from home for the first time and are unfamiliar with basic home safety.


One of the basics often taken for granted are smoke alarms. Since being introduced in the 1970s, smoke alarms have helped cut residential fire death rates in half, but smoke alarms can’t be helpful unless properly installed and maintained.

“It is easiest to remember change your clock, change your battery,” said D.W. Presley, interim fire captain for the Makanda Township Fire Department. “Roughly 70 percent of home fire deaths result from fires in homes with no smoke alarms or no working smoke alarms.”

While working fire alarms may not be an issue for those living in residential housing, all smoke alarms are hard-wired to automatically detect tampering or defects, a false sense of security may cause problems.

“Sometimes people hear the alarms and think they are fake,” said Beth Scally, associate director of Housing. “But they should exit the building anyway.

“This year, we haven’t had someone just pull the alarm. There haven’t been false alarms. They have been going off for legitimate reasons, either a fire drill or bad cooking, something made it go off.”

Although cooking is responsible for more than 20 percent of residential hall fires according to the Illinois State Fire Marshall, University Housing has taken decisive measures in the past few years to eliminate two other major causes – smoking and open flames.

“When we banned candles a few years ago, one of the major concerns was in regards to smoking,” Scally said. “I think that had a major part in the Residence Hall Association taking such a strong stance on eliminating smoking in the dorms. It’s not just a health issue. It’s also a safety issue.”


In addition to taking steps toward prevention, the University requires one of the standbys of fire safety – preparing for the worst. Presley said if worse comes to worst, residents need to identify escape routes and practice them, which the University does.

“Oh, those morning fire drills,” Scally said. “The students hate them. It’s not their favorite thing, but it’s so they know what it sounds like and don’t think it’s fake if something really happens.”