State Fire Marshal: Use Care in Selecting Off-Campus Housing

NASHVILLE – (RealEstateRama) — As the summer season winds down, college students begin preparations for the fall semester. While some will be first-time students moving into residence halls, many will be moving off-campus and living on their own for the first time. The State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) urges students and their parents to choose fire-safe off-campus housing and discuss fire safety practices in order to prevent potentially life-threatening situations.

From January 2000 to May 2015, there were 85 fatal fires in U.S. dormitories, fraternities, sororities and off-campus housing, resulting in 118 fatalities. The majority of those fire deaths (94 percent) occurred in off-campus housing, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Here in Tennessee, two students have been killed in campus-related fires since 2000. A fire on the top floor of a residence hall claimed the life of a 20-year-old student at Southern Adventist University (Collegedale) in 2005. The section of the building was not equipped, at that time, with an automatic sprinkler system. In 2012, an early morning fire killed a 20-year-old University of Memphis student living in an off-campus apartment.

Off-campus housing fire deaths often have common factors including a lack of automatic fire sprinklers, missing or disabled smoke alarms, careless smoking habits, and the misuse of alcohol — which impairs judgment and hampers evacuation efforts.

“While college can and should be an exciting time for students and their parents, care must be taken when selecting housing,” said State Fire Marshal and Commerce & Insurance Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “We urge families to inspect the property thoroughly. Always check for proper fire protection measures before signing a lease or moving in.”

To help parents and students through the process of selecting fire-safe off-campus housing, the SFMO is providing a handy list of questions that renters should ask before moving in:

Are working smoke alarms installed? (Preferably in each bedroom, interconnected to sound all if any one detects smoke)

Are there at least two ways to exit your bedroom and your building?
Do the upper floors of the building have at least two interior stairways or a fire escape?

Is a sprinkler system installed and maintained?
Are the existing electrical outlets adequate for all of the appliances and equipment that you are bringing – without the need for extension cords?
Are there “EXIT” signs in the building hallways to indicate accessible escape routes?

Does the building have a fire alarm system installed and maintained?
Has the building’s heating system been inspected recently (in the last year)?
Is the building address clearly posted to allow emergency services to find you quickly in the event of an emergency?

Does the sprinkler system or fire alarm system send a signal to the local fire department or campus security?

The State Fire Marshal’s Office encourages parents to remind their students to take fire drills and evacuations seriously and to be aware that fire safety is important at home and on and off-campus.

For more information on campus fire safety, visit http://www.nfpa.org/campus.

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