As thousands of young adults make their way to Massachusetts colleges and universities, fire service leaders are reminding students and parents to be sure their living spaces have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms, and that they know two ways out in an emergency.
“In the weeks and months ahead, many young people will be living away from home here for the first time,” said State Fire Marshal Jon M. Davine. “We’re particularly concerned about off-campus housing because that’s where the data shows the greatest loss of life, but fire safety is vitally important whether you live in a dorm, apartment, single-family home, multifamily dwelling, sorority, or fraternity. Everyone should have working smoke and CO alarms on every level of their residence and know two ways out in an emergency.”
Hyannis Fire Chief Peter J. Burke, Jr, who serves as president of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, echoed that message.
“If your rental doesn’t have smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, insist on them,” said Chief Burke. “Landlords are required to provide them, but don’t spend a single night unprotected in the meantime. For the price of a pizza, you can go to a hardware store and pick up smoke and CO alarms that could save your life. Choose photoelectric smoke alarms with sealed, long-life batteries, and test them once a month to be sure you’re protected. And if you hear that alarm, leave everything and get out right away. Waiting to evacuate or stopping to retrieve personal items increases your chances of being trapped.”
State Fire Marshal Davine said 2,608 fires occurred in student dormitories, fraternities, and sororities in Massachusetts between 2018 and 2022, causing six civilian injuries, 11 fire service injuries, and more than $3 million in damages. He also noted that fire safety precautions should remain in place all through the year. Windows, doors, and stairways should always be clear of boxes, furniture, bicycles, and anything else that might hinder an escape. Fire doors should never be blocked or chocked open. And smoke and carbon monoxide alarms must remain operational all year long, as required by law.
“Never, ever disable a smoke alarm,” said Chief Burke. “Modern fires burn and spread faster than they did in past decades, and we have less time than ever before to escape a fire at home. Smoke alarms give you the warning you need to get out, stay out, and call 9-1-1.”
Working alarms, clear exit routes, and practicing a plan for using them are crucial for when a fire breaks out, but students can also take steps to prevent them from starting in the first place:
Smoking: There is no safe way to smoke, but if you must smoke then do it responsibly. Don’t flick them on the ground, where they can smolder and ignite debris, or grind them out on porches or steps. Use a heavy ashtray on a sturdy surface and put it out, all the way, every time.
Electrical: Always plug appliances such as air conditioners and space heaters into wall sockets that can handle the current, not power strips or extension cords. Don’t overload outlets with multiple devices.
Heating: Turn space heaters off when leaving the room or going to sleep. Never leave a space heater unattended.
Cooking: Stand by your pan! Don’t leave pots and pans unattended on a lit stovetop, and keep flammable items away from burners. In the event of a grease fire, smother the flames with a lid and then turn off the heat. Cook only when you’re alert, not when you’re drowsy or impaired.
Candles: Never leave candles burning unattended. Extinguish them before leaving the room. Even better, switch to battery-powered candles.
Lithium-Ion Batteries: Use the charging equipment provided by the manufacturer and disconnect it when the device is charged. Charge phones, laptops, e-cigarettes, e-bike batteries, and other devices on a hard and stable surface – never a bed, couch, or pillow. If you notice an unusual odor, change in color, change in shape, leaking, or odd noises, stop using the device right away. If you can do so safely, move it away from anything that can burn and call your local fire department.
For more fire safety tips for both on and off campus, visit www.mass.gov/dfs.