In an effort to prevent injuries and illnesses in fires that occur in college residence halls, off-campus housing or fraternity/sorority houses and to raise awareness of life-saving fire prevention knowledge as students return to school, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and the ASSE Fire Protection Practice Specialty (PS) are providing free fire prevention and safety tip sheets, according to a press release.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 3,570 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities, and barracks in 2003-2006. These fires caused an annual average of seven civilian deaths, 54 civilian fire injuries and $29.4 million in property damage. In August, 2010, a fire at a sorority house at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., caused more than 70 occupants to evacuate, injured one woman and caused over $50,000 in damage to the building.

Though a number of student-related fire tragedies occur both on and off-campus, the majority of fatal fires occur off-campus. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), out of the 139 campus-related fire fatalities that occurred from January 2000 to the present, 84 percent occurred off-campus. Thus far in 2010, five students have died in off-campus fires.

“We want students to be able to finish their studies, not die or be injured in a preventable fire. Awareness about fire safety and prevention is critical to ensuring the safety and well-being of students living in on or off-campus housing,” said ASSE Fire Protection PS Administrator Walt Beattie, CSP, CFPS, CSHM. “Off-campus fires are the most common, but all students need to be aware of the dangers associated with fires and how to react in the event of an emergency. No one wants to lose a child, brother, sister or friend to a tragic fire.”

The USFA notes that there is a strong link between fire deaths and alcohol, stating that in more than 50 percent of adult fire fatalities the victims were under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fires. The USFA also states that in cases where fire fatalities occurred on campus, alcohol was a factor. Drinking alcohol impairs judgment and motor skills, and can hinder efforts to evacuate during a fire.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Fire Deaths and Injuries Fact Sheet, most victims of fires die from smoke or toxic gases, not from burns. Additionally, according to the USFA, smoke inhalation alone accounts for 40 percent of residential building fire injuries. Smoke inhalation occurs when one breathes in the products of combustion during a fire. Combustion results from the rapid breakdown of a substance by heat, burning. Smoke is a mixture of heated particles and gases.

To help reduce risk of injury and death, residence halls should be equipped with properly operating self-closing doors that are not propped open; clearly marked exits; corridors that are kept clear and are not blocked; heating and ventilation systems that are routinely inspected and repaired for any deficiencies; and properly operating fire alarm and extinguishing systems, where required.

There are many steps you can take to prevent on and off-campus fires. Simple actions such as not overloading extension cords, power strips or outlets significantly reduce risk. Cooking safely, avoiding open flames and correctly discarding of smoking materials are just a few additional ways to reduce the risk of fire. Students should know where all exits are located and develop a fire escape plan for off-campus housing. Students living in on-campus dormitories or residence halls should follow all emergency evacuation procedures and participate in all fire drills. Know how to operate a fire extinguisher, fire alarms and smoke detectors.

ASSE provides free fire safety tips on statistics, prevention, fire escape planning, fire safety equipment for off-campus and Greek housing, information on recent incidents, a parent guide to fire safety, what you need to know when your child leaves home for college, a list of key resources and an on/off campus fire safety flyer. These are available on/off campus fire safety tips.