College Dorms and Your Child's Safety

You checked out the academics, financial aid, football team, even the meal plans, but how closely did you examine the fire safety of your college student's dorm?

There are 1,500 fires in dorms and Greek housing each year. This is according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Some schools are better prepared than others for fire safety, but parents and students need to know where to look and what questions to ask.

Many college students say fire safety in dorms isn't something they considered when looking at schools. "To be honest," said one student "Fire safety was probably not even on the list of things I was concerned about."

Fire safety is frequently taken for granted by students and parents alike. But a survey of 900 colleges and universities by the Princeton Review and the Center for Campus Fire Safety shows some schools are safer than others.

"We look at four different types of things." said Princeton Review Editorial Director Robert Franek. "One, sprinklers in each of the residence hall rooms. Two, were there smoke detectors in each of the residence hall rooms. And third we looked at training and how much training, hours of training was given to each undergraduate on that college campus provided by the school. And then fourth, what the procedures were on each of these college campuses when handling a fire alarm."

The scores start at 60 for schools not reporting any data to 99 for those reporting the highest degree of fire safety. The results are posted on the Princeton Review website. Simply type in the name of the college. The information won't be available in book form until next year.

There's nothing like a firsthand inspection. When parents and students visit colleges, they should have a list of fire safety questions.

According to the Center for Campus Fire Safety:

  • Look for an automatic sprinkler system and smoke alarms.
  • Does the signal go to campus security or directly to the fire department?
  • Is smoking banned in the building? What about candles and halogen lamps?
  • Must electrical appliances and power strips be certified?
  • Does the staff receive fire prevention training? How much and who provides it?
  • Are students taught how to use fire extinguishers?
  • How often are evacuation drills conducted?

And here's something else to keep in mind: false alarms are a big issue on college campuses, because students may ignore the real thing. Find out how many false alarms occur and what the school's disciplinary policy is for students who cause them or who fail to respond to drills.