Fire safety: More than just stop, drop and roll

It’s 4 a.m. on a Sunday. Suddenly, a loud, unpleasant buzzer immediately wakes you up: It’s the fire alarm. For a few seconds, you contemplate going back to sleep and finishing that dream — but instead you file out like the rest of your dorm mates.

Lucky that you did, because this was no drill; there was a small fire a few stories above you that could easily have harmed someone.

While actual fires aren’t nearly as common as the fire alarms which signal them, it is still of utmost importance to pay close attention to fire safety.

“You just really have to be aware that it’s still a real threat, and you do have to take some precautions,” said Eddie Bain, Investigation and Fire Prevention Program Director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute.

There are two main steps to follow when thinking of fire safety: preventing the fire and escaping from one, if it starts.

Within the first category, students in University and campus housing can avoid a possible fire by taking note of common fire hazards. These can be heating pads, high-powered microwaves, stoves and candles.

“Many (fire hazards) involve candles: people using candles around flammables, leaving them unattended,” said Phil Edwards, Urbana Fire Marshal. “I can’t say candles enough because that is one of the main issues with dormitories.”

Cooking, electrical and cigarette-based fires can also happen easily — if a student leaves something in the oven or on the stove unattended, if there are too many things plugged into one outlet, and if cigarettes are disposed of improperly, these fires could be deadly.

The correct way to dispose of cigarettes is by dampening them and throwing them away outside of the structure, not inside, said Janet Maupin, City of Champaign Deputy Fire Marshal.

In addition to paying attention to fire hazards and treating them accordingly, there is the commonly known home smoke alarm. If you own a smoke alarm, says Bain, you are twice as likely to survive a fire than if you didn’t have one.

Moreover, it is essential to know where the nearest escape route is. Whether students live in a dorm, an apartment or a house, this is a small but important detail to acknowledge.

“We also recommend that people get to know more than one way out of a building, any building,” Maupin said. “It’s a good habit to get into, whether you were in classroom buildings or if you go to a party at a fraternity or sorority, for example … It just makes for safer people.”

The second step of fire safety is reacting to a situation where a fire actually does break out. The number one thing to do is quite obvious to many: call 911. Let authorities know where you are, alert them of the situation, and pull the fire alarm.

Dorm RAs are trained in the area of fire safety, so they could also know what to do. Within a dorm or other housing areas, a student should not only get themselves out, but help others as well.

“One thing that I think is most important is that each person is responsible for their own safety, but take it a step further and be responsible for your neighbors,” Edwards said.

Within housing or other campus area buildings, overcrowded areas can lead to difficulties in leaving during an emergency.

“We see this in campus settings a lot: different bars and restaurants, night spots, KAM’s, Joe’s, all those places,” Bain said. “When they’re jam-packed crowded and an emergency breaks out, you need to be able to get away.”

While leaving the area is, in many cases, the safest thing someone can do in the event of a fire, an extinguisher can be the answer — only if it is handy. If it’s too far away and you don’t know how to work it, you would be putting yourself in danger by staying in the building to get it.

“Real fires are very dark, they’re very hot and they’re very smoky,” Bain said. They can be very different than Hollywood’s interpretation of them, he added.

What’s more, they grow exponentially. They can start very small, but they grow quicker by the second.

Lastly, in many cases, students who are intoxicated or under the influence of drugs will have impaired judgments when it comes to dealing with emergencies such as fires. This is why students should stay wary of fire safety methods, especially if they’re out with their friends.

Fires continue to take the lives of students on college campuses and others around the world, but by doing what they can to avoid and react to a fire, students could live safer lives when living on campus.