For many students, going away to college gives them the freedom to make their own choices, but when it comes to living in on- and off-campus housing, it’s important for students and their parents to keep safety top of mind.

Ohio’s Department of Commerce Divisions of State Fire Marshal and Industrial Compliance lead the way to ensure key university infrastructure function safely and provide prevention resources to keep students safe.

“It’s important to raise awareness about the dangers of fires among college-aged students who live in on- and off-campus housing,” said State Fire Marshal Kevin Reardon. “Students and parents need to know the risks surrounding unattended cooking, the disabling of smoke alarms in rooms, and the preventative actions that can save their lives.”

Campus fire safety by the numbers:

• From 2015-2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 3,840 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and other related properties. These fires caused annual averages of 29 injuries and $11 million in direct property damage.

• September and October were the peak months for fires in dormitory properties, and they are more common during the evening hours between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.

• Cooking equipment was involved in nearly nine out of 10 reported fires in dormitory- type properties (87 percent).
 
The Division of Industrial Compliance also works to ensure safety on campuses, providing both building plan examination and boiler and elevator inspections on thousands of campus buildings across the state.

“All construction that takes place on these campuses is approved by our plans examiners,” said Deputy Superintendent Patrick Reardon. “Our group ensures each new build is in compliance with Ohio Building Code. Once plans are reviewed and approved, our inspectors then look over the work on the ground to ensure safety. We also play an important role as students start to move back to campus and go to class.”

All boilers and elevators are inspected annually on Ohio campuses. Those inspections are important to maintaining proper heating in buildings once the cooler weather hits and keeping students and faculty protected when riding in elevators.

Commerce also encourages parents to see the off-campus apartment or house where their child will be living before signing the lease.

“This helps remind parents that safe off-campus housing includes working smoke alarms and two ways out in case of a fire,” Fire Prevention Bureau Chief Ken Klouda said.

Students should make a habit of keeping prevention in mind while moving into their home away from home by:
 
Inspecting electrical cords.

• Electrical cords can become damaged and frayed over time.

• If they show even the slightest damage, replace them immediately.

• Limit the number of cords running from a single outlet as this can cause overloading to occur.

Checking smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

• Test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms once a month.

• Gently clean the alarms, as needed.

• If detectors are over 10 years old, have them replaced.

Practicing safe cooking techniques.

• Do not leave any cooking area unattended.

• Set a timer as a reminder of the food you are preparing.

• Keep paper towels and napkins away from hot surfaces.

• Have an appropriate fire extinguisher handy. 

See additional fire prevention resources at the State Fire Marshal’s website: com.ohio.gov/fire.