Tampa Parents: How Fire Safe Is Your College Student’s Housing?

Tampa Bay is home to well over 100,000 college students, many of whom live on campus or in nearby student housing.

As parents, we like to think the worst thing that could happen to our child is a lousy grade or catching the flu. In Tampa, passing hurricanes might add a few gray hairs. But what if the guy next door burns a cinnamon-scented candle to mask the aroma of dirty socks before a date, then forgets to blow the flame out before leaving?

Suddenly, that stack of magazines meant to catch stray drops of wax is ablaze. Would your child know what to do if those flames seared through the common wall?

Your daughter might be thinking about her grade in advanced rhetoric, the cute boy next to her in quantitative analysis or an upcoming party. But chances are, she is not thinking about the possibility of a fire. That’s where you come in, mama. You are not being overprotective — you are simply trying to ensure that your baby makes it to her first round of job interviews.

Is that dorm, house or apartment building equipped to alert her to the fire and to help contain the flames with a fire sprinkler system until firefighters arrive?

Residential Fire Hazards

Learning evacuation procedures and “stop, drop and roll” for a one-story elementary school is one thing. College housing is trickier. Hundreds of students live together. They’re often distracted, exhausted or drinking and that can lead to carelessness.

A few of the risks:

  • Overloading electrical outlets
  • Draping material over lamps/lights
  • Disabling smoke detectors
  • Cooking
  • Burning candles
  • Using space heaters
  • Smoking

Tampa Bay may be surrounded by water, but a fire can happen here as easily as anywhere else.

Sobering Statistics

Since 2000, the Center for Campus Fire Safety has documented 92 fatal fires on college campuses, in Greek housing or within three miles of a college campus. Those fires have injured many and killed 132 people.

Whether your college student is living in an off-campus apartment, a dorm or a Greek house, it’s important to check for fire hazards, make sure fire alarms are operational and ask about fire sprinkler systems.

In 58 percent of the fatal campus fires, smoke alarms were missing, had no batteries or were disconnected. Fire sprinkler systems were not present in any of the documented fires.

Alarms and fire sprinkler systems are key to your child’s safety. They can provide lifesaving protection and buy time to evacuate.

Fire Safety Resources for You and Your Child

Whether you’re buying bedding for your child’s first semester away or you have a fifth-year senior, it’s always the right time to talk about fire safety. Here’s a helpful sheet to get the conversation started. It’s meant for students to share with friends. And here is a fire safety checklist for students.

Living in campus housing? Here’s a great list to help parents and students ask school officials thoughtful questions.

Off-campus housing requires some additional precautions. The vast majority of fatal fires near colleges in recent years have happened off campus. With less-stringent regulations than dorms, it’s important to talk with the landlord about smoke detectors, fire sprinkler systems, power outlet capacity, and other concerns.

Rental demand is sky high in the Tampa Bay area, leading builders to erect hundreds of “stick-frame” wood-frame apartment buildings in recent years. They’re cheaper and quicker to build than concrete block or masonry. But how would they hold up in a fire?

Alarms matter. Escape plans matter. Fire sprinkler systems matter.

That’s because even if your child follows the rules and does everything right in college, the student next door might not.

For more information go to www.Homefiresprinkler.org

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