Fire safety a main concern as students settle in for the year

Not overloading electrical outlets and keeping exits clear are key to being safe.

by Elizabeth Cook

Mark Schwandt woke early Wednesday morning to flames rising from his porch.

The music performance sophomore said only four of the 15 residents at 521 Fourth Ave. S.E. woke up and noticed the fire burning outside.

This comes almost two years after a house fire killed University students Elizabeth Wencl, Amanda Speckien and Brian Heiden at 827 15th Ave. S.E. and brings up the issue of fire safety around campus.

Ulie Seal, Minneapolis Fire Department assistant fire chief, said the cause of the Sept. 20, 2003, fire was never determined, but could have been caused by careless smoking or arson since the fire started on the easily accessible porch.

The recent fire on Fourth Avenue Southeast, Schwandt said, could also have been started by a cigarette that lit some oil from a tiki torch. But in this case, Schwandt said, firefighters put out the fire at his house before it got the chance to spread. No one was injured in the fire.

According to the International Code Council, a building code and safety advocacy group, as students start getting comfortable in their new homes, they should be thinking about fire safety.

To help protect against fires, Seal said, make sure all the fire alarms are working.

People are notorious for tampering with fire alarms, he said. They think it’s easier for cooking or more convenient.

“The reason those devices are put in are for fire safety issues,” Seal said.

It’s also good to have an exit plan of what to do in case of a fire, he said. Students should have a head count and a meeting place planned out.

To help prevent fires, students should never stack laundry around a water heater or keep gasoline in the house and should make sure the exits of the house are clear, Seal said.

First-year child psychology student Alycia Deihs said that in the residence halls, there are plans on the back of the door that tell you where to go in case of a fire.

She said she hasn’t really looked at it, however.

Though Deihs said she wasn’t worried, fires do happen in residence halls. According to Minneapolis Fire Department reports, last April there was a fire in Pioneer Hall caused by two or three overloaded power strips.

No students were injured, but one room was burned and other rooms were damaged by water.

According to nonprofit Center for Campus Fire Safety, 78 students in the United States have died in student housing fires since January 2000.

Jim Tidwell, vice president of the International Code Council, said the primary cause of residence hall fires is the misuse of smoking materials.

Tidwell also said drinking is seen in the majority of cases.

“Alcohol causes people to do things they normally wouldn’t do,” Tidwell said.

Other safety problems include plugging too many things into an outlet, he said.

Extension cords should never be run under carpets or stapled around doors, Tidwell said.

He said candles burning and cooking in residence halls are also contributors to fires.

According to a news release from the International Code Council, students can reduce the risk of fire by never hanging anything from fire sprinkler heads and keeping furniture clear of windows and doors for quick exiting. Also, students should check the pressure level on their fire extinguishers. If there is no extinguisher, students should buy one and learn how to use it.

According to the International Code Council, students should also make sure doors are never propped open, as they can allow smoke and fire to spread.