As students prepare to move into shared or rented accommodations to attend college or university, parents, guardians and students themselves should take an active role in finding a safe place to live. It is essential for caregivers and students to talk about fire and life safety. Whether returning to school or leaving home for the first time, a discussion about good fire safety practices can help to ensure this exciting time in a students life is not marred by a fire tragedy.

Look While You Cook

Stay in the kitchen when cooking – especially if using oil or high temperatures. If a pot catches fire, have a proper-fitting pot lid handy to slide over the pot and turn off the stove. Cooking requires constant attention. Distractions like televisions, cell phones, or computers can lead to a tragic cooking fire.

Candle With Care

If you use candles in your room or apartment, keep them away from anything that can burn and place them in a safe, sturdy holder with a glass shade or hurricane chimney. Place them where they cannot be knocked over and blow them out when leaving the room.

Keep An Eye On Excessive Drinkers

Alcohol is a common factor in many fire fatalities involving cooking and smoking. Be aware of roommates and friends who have been drinking excessively, especially if they are cooking or smoking.

Smoke Outside

Establish rules for smokers. If you permit smoking inside, use large, sturdy ashtrays that can’t be easily tipped over. Ashtrays should be emptied into a metal container not the garbage can. Check around furniture cushions after people have been smoking, especially if they have been drinking.

Use Electricity Wisely

Toasters, coffeemakers and microwaves should be plugged directly into an outlet. If you must use an extension cord, buy one that is the correct gauge for the appliance and has a CSA or ULC approval mark on the label. CSA or ULC approved power bars may be used for stereo equipment, computers and lights.

Clear the Clutter

Keep things that burn away from heat sources like stovetops, space heaters and electronic equipment. Tea towels and paper too close to burners can catch fire. Keep space heaters at least one metre away from bedding, furniture and curtains.

Working Smoke Alarms

It’s the Law: Your room or apartment must have working smoke alarms. Test them monthly and notify the landlord immediately if they’re not working. Dead batteries must be replaced right away. Nuisance alarms can be avoided by making sure smoke alarms are not located too close to the kitchen or bathroom. Consider getting a smoke alarm with a hush feature. Smoke alarms should be checked after any extended absence such as Christmas break and reading week. Never tamper with or disable a smoke alarm.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Ontario law requires all homes/apartments to have a working carbon monoxide alarm outside all sleeping areas if there is a fuel-burning appliance or fireplace in the home/apartment. If the building has a service room or a garage, carbon monoxide alarms must be installed outside each sleeping area of all apartment units above, below and beside the service room or garage. If there is a service room, a carbon monoxide alarm also must be installed in the service room. Contact the local fire department for more information.

Plan To Escape

Know two ways out of your room or apartment in case of fire. Identify all exits and make sure you can use them. If you live in a high-rise, familiarize yourself with the building’s fire safety plan. If you discover fire, call the fire department from a safe location outside.

Be Equipped

To stay safe, all students should put together a package that includes a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide alarm, a battery powered lantern or flashlight and radio, extra batteries and a CSA or ULC approved power bar.

Smoke Alarms

It is the law in Ontario to have working smoke alarms on every storey and outside all sleeping areas. The law applies to single family, semi-detached, town homes and apartments (including basement apartments), whether owner-occupied or rented. Rooming houses have specific regulations about smoke alarms or fire alarm systems. In addition to smoke alarms within each unit or suite, apartment buildings and student residences operated by the school may also have a building fire alarm system. Make sure the landlord, administrator or superintendent identifies and explains the fire alarm and detection features in the building and unit.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms

Ontario law requires all homes/apartments to have a working carbon monoxide alarm outside all sleeping areas if there is a fuel-burning appliance or fireplace in the home/apartment. If the building has a service room or a garage, carbon monoxide alarms must be installed outside each sleeping area of all apartment units above, below and beside the service room or garage. If there is a service room, a carbon monoxide alarm also must be installed in the service room. Contact the local fire department for more information.

Fire Separations

Students often find accommodation in older homes that have been converted to apartments or rooming houses. At the time of the conversion, a building permit should have been obtained to ensure that fire safety features such as proper exits and fire separations between units are provided. Ask the owner if the property complies with the Building Code and Fire Code and to explain the fire safety features.

Exits

It is important to consider how people will escape from a room or apartment in an emergency. Every room or apartment requires adequate exits that will permit unobstructed escape from the building. Make sure to ask the landlord or superintendent to identify all of the designated exits. All windows and doors should open fully and easily. Stairways and hallways must not be used for storage as this can pose serious fire safety hazards. Furniture and other obstacles can physically block exits and may fill hallways or stairways with smoke if they catch fire. This practice must be strictly avoided.

Fire Escape Plans

In a fire emergency, everyone must know what to do and where to go. Large apartment buildings and student residence buildings require a fire safety plan, which informs the occupants about emergency procedures. Ask the building administrator or superintendent to explain the procedures in the fire safety plan.
Smaller apartment buildings and houses that have been converted to apartments or lodging rooms may not have a fire safety plan, however its a good idea to ensure there are two ways out of the unit. The alternate way out can be a window that can be safely exited in an emergency.

Security

Some property owners install bars on windows as a security measure. While this may seem appealing from a security point of view, it can prevent students from escaping in an emergency situation. Security bars on windows should be equipped with a quick-opening device on the inside so the bars can be removed quickly.

Electrical Safety

Many buildings offering lodging to students are older homes that may not have upgraded wiring. Outlets in bathrooms or within one metre of the kitchen sink should be the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) type. Consider the number and location of electrical outlets in the room or apartment. There should be enough outlets so that appliances such as lamps, computer equipment and stereos can be operated without the use of extension cords. If extension cords cant be avoided, use multi-outlet power bars that are approved and provide surge protection and a circuit breaker. Make sure that electrical cords of any kind are not concealed under carpets or rugs where they can be easily damaged. Avoid overloaded circuits and octopus wiring.

For more information

Contact the administration offices of the college or university. They will frequently maintain a registry of available accommodation for students. Call the local fire department to determine if the building has been inspected for Fire Code compliance.

Cooking

Cooking is the number one cause of home fires in Ontario. If the student’s accommodation has cooking facilities, there are some basic fire safety rules they must follow to prevent cooking fires:

  • A stovetop fire can start in a flash, so stay in the kitchen when something is cooking on the stove.
  • Keep all combustible items a safe distance away from the stove. This includes tea towels, wooden or plastic spoons and paper towels.
  • Keep a pot lid near the stove to smother flames if a fire starts in a pot.

Candles

The use of candles is becoming more and more popular, especially among young people. To prevent candle fires:

  • Use tea lights or votive candles in non-combustible containers as they are generally a safer choice than tapers.
  • Place the candles in a location where they cant be knocked over or come in contact with combustible items.
  • Blow out all candles before leaving the room or going to bed.

Space Heaters

The central heating systems in older accommodation is often supplemented with space heaters. To prevent heating fires:

  • Keep the space heater at least one metre away from anything that can burn, such as paper, bedding, furniture and curtains.
  • Turn off the space heater before going out or going to bed.

Social Gatherings

Parties are as much a part of student life as attending classes. While most student parties are harmless fun, the consumption of alcohol combined with cooking or smoking can create a serious fire risk. To minimize the risk of fires during or after parties:

  • Avoid over-crowding. The more people attending the party, the easier it is to lose control of the situation.
  • Encourage guests to smoke outside. Consider putting up no smoking signs that direct guests to an outside smoking area.
  • Refrain from burning candles during parties. They can easily be knocked over or ignite nearby combustibles, unnoticed.

Smoking

Fires caused by smoking can be deadly. Even if they don’t smoke themselves, chances are the student will have friends that do. To prevent smoking fires:

  • Encourage smokers to go outside.
  • Keep large, deep ashtrays on hand that will reduce the risk of ashes and cigarette butts falling onto rugs or upholstery.
  • Allow ashes to cool completely before disposing.

Electrical Equipment

Overloaded circuits and octopus wiring are dangerous electrical hazards that can be avoided. To prevent fires caused by electrical equipment:

  • Use an approved power bar with a circuit breaker and surge protector to plug in computer and stereo equipment.
  • Avoid the use of extension cords as permanent wiring.
  • Make sure electrical cords are not concealed under carpets or rugs where they can be easily damaged.

Smoke alarms

If a fire does occur, it is critical that the dwelling have working smoke alarms to alert occupants as soon as possible.

  • The responsibility for smoke alarm installation and maintenance lies with the homeowner or landlord, however it is a good idea for parents to provide their child with a smoke alarm for his or her bedroom.
  • It is against the law for tenants to disable or tamper with a smoke alarm.
  • If a smoke alarm activates due to steam from the shower or cooking on the stove, oven or toaster, ask the landlord to move the alarm to a different location, or to install a smoke alarm with a pause feature.

Fire Escape Planning

When the smoke alarm sounds, everyone must know what to do and where to go. Encourage
students to develop a fire escape plan, keeping the following in mind:

  • Know two ways out of every room, if possible. The first way out would be the door, while the alternate escape could be a window that can be exited safely. Make sure all designated escape routes are accessible and free of clutter.
  • Leave the building as quickly as possible. Once outside, do not re-enter the building for any reason.
  • Call 9-1-1 from outside the building using a cell phone or neighbours phone.

Credit : Ontario Fire Marshal and Emergency Management