Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Report Cites Students to be Proactive about Fire Protection

Students get firm warning on fire danger;
New Report cites on-campus stats
USA TodayBy Robert Davis and Anthony DeBarros

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Federal officials on Tuesday warned students moving to college to take steps to protect themselves from the rising number of fires on and near campuses.

"The risk of fire in college housing is greater than in housing used in the general population," says Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Risky behavior, such as drinking alcohol, can contribute to the danger, she says. She suggests students pack their "safety smarts."

At a media briefing on the University of Maryland campus, officials released a new National Fire Protection Association report that cites an increase in college housing fires: 3,300 in 2005, up from 1,800 in 1998. From 2002 through 2005, there were 39 deaths and about 400 injuries in dormitories, fraternities, sororities and barracks as a result of fires.

But the report, which was based on estimates from two national databases, did not include off-campus fires. USA TODAY reported last year that off-campus fires were the most deadly.

No agency tracks this area, officials say. As a result, two University of Maryland students who died in separate fires the past two years less than a mile away from Tuesday's briefing are not included in the report.

Fire prevention efforts have helped to save lives on campus, and college students are at greater risk when they move off campus away from school safety programs, federal officials say.

"Deaths and injuries in on-campus housing may be just a fraction of the fires that affect college students," Nord says, citing media reports. "Off-campus fires may be the leading source of death and injury to college students."

Alan Sactor, the University of Maryland's fire marshal, says that since the 1970s, the school has been assisted by local fire officials in inspecting the off-campus fraternity and sorority houses to "keep our hand in it." But "off-campus apartments are a very difficult issue. I don't think there are any good answers on that yet."

So students and parents are encouraged to take a more active role. Gregory Cade, U.S. fire administrator at the Department of Homeland Security, says they should look for sprinkler systems, working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and two exits from every bedroom.

"Proactive measures at any level of life are likely to evolve into preventative acts," says Rick Yandoli of Greenwich, Conn., who was visiting the campus with his daughter, a prospective student.

Ed Comeau, publisher of Campus Firewatch, which tracks campus-related fire deaths, says many people must work to protect students.

"It is a shared responsibility among the school, the community, the student and the parents," he says. "However, the ultimate responsibility lies with the students."