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Community Focus
by Tom Kiurski

What we didn't learn at college

Take action and share these lessons on fire safety to help prevent student deaths in fire

By Tom Kiurski

An off-campus apartment fire claimed the lives of two Frostburg State University (Maryland) students earlier this month. They were living off-campus, in an apartment. This apartment was part of a building that had a restaurant on the lower level and apartments to the rear and above the restaurant.

The female victim was to celebrate her twentieth birthday that day. She didn't celebrate.

The fire started in a common area of the first floor. When you stay in a building with multiple tenants, you have to be concerned about your safety due to your actions and all the actions of the other building's occupants – this is something you need to stress to those in your community. A wood stove was the area of origin of this fire.

Imagine the excitement of moving off-campus, into an apartment near campus. Friends, furniture, gatherings and classes all were on the minds of these young adults. Fire safety was not.

There were no smoke alarms in the building, and the cause of death for both victims is listed as smoke inhalation. Ten other building occupants managed to escape this early morning fire; some spoke of luck or planning. One of the victims called 911 at least twice, stating they were trapped in their apartment by the fire.

These fire deaths did not have to happen. Let's go back and replay this fire for the sake of learning from it. If someone had gone to their child's college and took a look at their dorm room or off-campus housing from the viewpoint of a concerned parent maybe things would have been different.

Very few young adults at this age consider fire safety. The parents should look at the room from the point of view of emergency escape. I wish someone would have shown these kids the actions to take to escape the building, and would have made them practice it.

This includes opening the windows and other doors that normally aren't used, just to make sure they have practiced it. I wish a responsible adult would have checked the building for smoke alarms. While there should be smoke alarms in college dorms and off-campus apartments, this shouldn't have been left to chance.

Any college student may well have forgotten to follow up with the proper people, who may not follow up on this anyway. Someone should have checked to make sure there were working smoke alarms in the room before they left.

Even if the child is leaving one room for another in "just a semester or two," smoke alarms are inexpensive insurance items. If you forget to take them down when the student leaves, consider it a gift of safety for the next occupant.

These are the first campus-related fire fatalities of the 2010-2011 academic year, which started Aug. 1. There have been 142 fatalities involving college students since 2000.

Other common factors in campus fire deaths include improper disposal of cigarettes and alcohol impairment. Working smoke alarms increase the chances of students waking up and taking appropriate actions while there is still time to do so. They buy time when time is at a premium.

I am sure these two students had hoped to celebrate the birthday in a quite different fashion. Take action and share these lessons on fire safety. Make that her birthday present to others.

About the author

Tom Kiurski has been in the fire service since 1981. He is the Training Coordinator and Director of Fire Safety Education for Livonia, Mich., Fire & Rescue. He has served as a firefighter/paramedic, engineer and lieutenant prior to his appointment as the training coordinator. He has earned an Associates Degree in Fire Science from Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Mich., a Bachelors Degree in Fire and Safety Engineering Technology from the University of Cincinnati and a Masters Degree in Public Administration from Eastern Michigan University. Tom teaches fire service-related courses at local colleges and fire academies. He has presented at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis seven times, as well as numerous state and local conferences. He has written more than 300 articles on fire safety education and training that have appeared in various fire service publications. Contact Tom at Tom.Kiurski@firerescue1.com.



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