Dormitory fire safety – what occupants need to know

From 2011 through 2015, dormitory fires caused a yearly average of 35 injuries and more than $14 million in property damage. The following information can be used to guide occupants on fire safety in dormitory-type properties, including fraternities, sororities, and barracks.

Cooking accounted for a yearly average of 87 percent of the fires in dormitories, caused approximately $4.3 million in property damage, and resulted in 29 percent of the injuries.

  • Never leave the stove unattended while cooking. If you need to step away from the stove, turn it off. Wear tight-fitting clothing when cooking over an open flame, and keep towels and potholders away from the flame.
  • If food or grease catches fire, smother the flames by sliding a lid over the pan and turning off the heat. Do not try to use water to extinguish a grease fire.
  • When deep-frying, never fill the pan more than one-third full of oil or fat.
  • Make sure the stove is kept clean and free of grease buildup.
  • Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove, so they cannot be knocked off or pulled down.

Rubbish and trash-related fires accounted for four percent of the fires, three percent of the injuries, and only minimal property losses.

  • Remove combustible materials, such as trash cans, paper, and cardboard boxes, from the area in front of and to the sides of outlets, panel boxes, or other heat-producing electrical equipment as well as cooking equipment.

Improperly discarded smoking materials accounted for three percent of the fires, seven percent of the injuries, and three percent of the property losses.

  • If smoking is permitted, only smoke in designated smoking areas.
  • Extinguish smoking materials in non-combustible receptacles designated for such use.
  • Do not empty ashtrays directly into the trash. Place them in a non-combustible container (i.e., metal can), partially filled with water. Wait one hour before putting in trash.

Dormitories protected by automatic sprinkler systems experienced 65 percent less property damage than those not protected by sprinklers.

  • Never tamper with, shut of, or block access to a sprinkler system.
  • Keep storage and furniture at least 18 inches (457 mm) between the top of storage and a sprinkler head.

Seven percent of the fires and 24 percent of the injuries related to fires in dormitory properties originated in the bedroom.

  • To maximize life safety and property conservation, both smoke detection and automatic sprinklers should be provided for all areas of a dormitory.
  • Smoke detection and fire alarm systems should be provided for each enclosed room or area.
  • Smoke detectors should never be disabled, blocked, or otherwise tampered with.

While statistics on candle-related fire in these properties, during the 2011-2015 time frame, is not available, candles remain an exposure that should be closely monitored.

  • Only use candles in the container in which they were supplied or other holders specially designed for such use.
  • Monitor areas where candles have been in use for at least 30 minutes after candles have been extinguished.
  • Use a candle snuffer, instead of blowing out a candle.
  • Keep candles at least 3 feet (91 cm) from combustible materials, such as drapes, chairs, and clothing.

During a fire

  • Get out and stay out. Leave as soon as possible.
  • Do not try to gather personal possessions or attempt to extinguish a fire.
  • Do not use the elevator.
  • Once out, do not go back inside.
  • Test the doors before opening them. Using the back of your hand, reach up high, and touch the door, the doorknob, and the space between the door and the frame. If anything feels hot, keep the door shut and use your second exit. If everything feels cool, open the door slowly and exit as low to the ground as possible if smoke is present.
  • Stay low and go. Crawl low and keep under the smoke if you are physically able. If not, try to cover your mouth and nose to avoid breathing toxic fumes, and make your way to safety as quickly as possible.

What to do if you are trapped

  • Close all the doors between you and the fire.
  • Fill cracks in doors, and cover all vents with damp cloth to keep smoke out.
  • If possible, call the fire department and tell them where you are located.
  • Signal rescuers from a window with a light-colored cloth.

What to do if you are on fire

  • Stop, drop, and roll.
  • If any part of you catches fire, do not run and do not try to extinguish the flames with your hands.
  • Cover your face with your hands.
  • Drop to the ground, rolling over and over.
  • If you have a disability that prevents your taking these actions, try to keep a flame-resistant blanket or rug nearby to smother any flames.

Copyright © 2018, ISO Services, Inc.

This material is provided for informational purposes only and does not provide any coverage or guarantee loss prevention. The examples in this material are provided as hypothetical and for illustration purposes only. The Hanover Insurance Company and its affiliates and subsidiaries (“The Hanover”) specifically disclaim any warranty or representation that acceptance of any recommendations contained herein will make any premises, or operation safe or in compliance with any law or regulation. By providing this information to you. The Hanover does not assume (and specifically disclaims) any duty, undertaking or responsibility to you. The decision to accept or implement any recommendation(s) or advice contained in this material must be made by you.

LC FEB 2019-459
171-10028 (12/18)