A Call to Increase Fire Awareness on Campus

Fire Protection in the United States is advancing, according to the U. S. Fire Administration's Fire Trends, an International Perspective. In 2007 the U.S. ranked 15th in fire deaths rate per million as opposed to 30th among industrialized countries in 1979.

For the U.S. to be ranked 15th for an industrialized nation, there is clearly room for improvement in the U.S. when it comes to fire protection.

Sprinkler Systems, Fire Alarm Systems, and Stricter Codes

The increased use of sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems, along with stricter codes, has helped the U.S. to improve dramatically over the past 30 years. Increased technology and tools for fire fighters use has helped also. However, for the U. S. to further reduce the number of fire related injuries and deaths as well as decreasing property loss, many changes must take place.

As stricter codes, new technology and other tools have helped to decrease the number of lives lost due to fire incidents, new challenges are always arising. Recent studies by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Institute for Standards and Testing (NIST) have revealed changes in fire behavior for typical dwellings.

Modern construction and furnishings can cause a room to heat to a flashover in approximately three minutes. The room becomes untenable much faster than the time it takes for flashover to occur. In order to cope with new challenges and improve the fire loss record in the U. S. more education, enforcement, responsibility and prevention must take place.

Education in Fire Safety: Continuing into College Starting with the earliest school programs, basic education in fire chemistry, response to fire and fire prevention should be taught on a regular basis. This teaching should continue on through middle school, high school and college as the challenges change with age.

In addition to the training they receive as children, young adults in college need to be taught again about the dangers of candles and the need to practice exit drills in their dorm or off campus housing. We need to be reminding everyone of the make-up of fire and how fast fire grows in modern furnished housing.

Discussions should take place regarding the dangers of cooking, smoking, burning candles and using space heaters. Stories need to be communicated about what can happen when drinking and/or drug use takes away a person’s capacity for self-preservation and the resulting tragedy that can occur.

These and similar messages need to be sent throughout the lives of students, up to and including their time in college, as a reminder of the dangers we face from possible fire incidents.

Enforcement Through In-depth Fire Inspections

Stepping up the frequency of in-depth fire inspections can identify situations, hazards and behaviors that could lead to a fire. Education of the building occupants during the inspection can go a long way to increasing the awareness of the general populace regarding the importance of fire knowledge, recognition of hazards and prevention. Assessment of fines or penalties for those who refuse to comply can ultimately coerce them into compliance.

Recognizing Personal Responsibility

Rather than depending on the fire department for protection when a fire occurs, and thus incurring damage and putting lives at risk – including the firefighters – people need to take responsibility for their situation and their actions. Make sure that students, or even staff, recognize that they must take responsibility for their own carelessness or lack of attention and correct that behavior. They also should be encouraged and reminded to speak up when they witness unsafe behavior in others that could lead to a disaster.

Prevention and Recognizing Potential Hazards In an effort to prevent fires from occurring on our campuses, college students must be reminded to recognize that a candle left unattended is unsafe, that a space heater is inherently dangerous, that walking away from cooking even for “just a minute” is asking for trouble.

Being aware of potential fire hazards, behaviors and situations, and taking appropriate action to mitigate the hazard goes a long way towards preventing fires. Students should be reminded and monitored regularly by Resident Assistants and other residence life workers for any behaviors that could lead to a potential hazard for everyone in the building.

In addition to education, enforcement prevention and taking responsibility, to ensure quick response to fire, businesses, building owners, workers and students need to be certain that a complete and balanced approach to fire protection exists in their workplace and at home.

This will provide occupants and others with the tools to defend in place against a fire, once the fire department has been called and everyone is safe.

Balanced Fire Protection: A Solution for Everyone

A balanced fire protection plan is made up of several components. These life-safety devices include fire extinguishers, standpipe fire hose stations, smoke/fire alarms, exit signs and emergency lighting, sprinkler and fire suppression systems. All these components must be in place and well-maintained to make a difference in case of fire.

Fire protection equipment is legislated by city, state, and federal laws, many of them directly adopted or adapted from model code-making organizations, such as the International Code Council (ICC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Building owners and managers must comply with the fire codes of their area. However, considering the history of fires and the potential severity of future ones, they may want to constantly re-evaluate their balanced fire protection plan and exceed the requirements of local codes for added protection. Businesses, too, should become advocates for their employees’ safety by urging building owners to go above and beyond local requirements for extra precautionary measures.

A Balanced Fire Protection Plan

A balanced fire protection plan is the first line of defense against fire. Small fires in the beginning stage can be suppressed with portable fire extinguishers or water hose lines connected to building standpipes. Even if the occupants are unable to extinguish the fire, they are able to gain time and protect the exit way in order to evacuate or defend in place, while waiting for the fire department to respond.

An alarm should always be sounded and the fire department notified regardless of how small the fire is and even if it is quickly extinguished. It is better to guarantee everyone’s safety through notification and evacuation. Also, the fire department should evaluate the incident and the site to make sure that all is safe for occupants to return.


Fire awareness, including education, enforcement, personal responsibility, prevention and a balanced fire protection plan will help the United States improve further on our fire loss record. Through these actions we can save more lives – including firefighters – reduce property damage and business losses. With a little effort, much will be gained.

About the Author
Craig Voelkert has been with Special Hazards with Amerex Corporation for 20 years, been active in the fire protection industry for 42 years, Chairman of the Fire Equipment Manufacturer's Association Gov't Relations Committee (GRC), Certified Fire Protection Specialist - (CFPS), Certified Fire and Explosion Investigator - (CFEI).