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WVU Extension expert offers safety tips for large gatherings and parties

The West Virginia University Fire Service Extension reminds those attending house parties, concerts or other large gatherings that being aware is the best way to return home safely should an emergency occur.

According to Mark Lambert, program leader of the WVU Fire Service Extension, the most important thing to take to a party isn’t a potluck dish, beverage or present. It’s mindfulness.

“Getting in to a safety-first mindset isn’t hard — on the way in, take note of where multiple exits are,” he said. “People tend to move with the group in an emergency, and those brief mental notes can be a lifesaver in a situation such as an escalating fire.”

Being constantly aware of your surroundings is key when reacting to an emergency situation, Lambert added.

When entering a large gathering or party, be wary of obvious overcrowding, blocked or locked exits and situations that can lead to structural collapse, such as balconies or small porches with an excessive amount of people on them.

Disaster can strike at any time and not just in a fire-related emergency. When mass hysteria occurs, which is the imaginary fear of danger that can spread rapidly through large crowds, such as those at concerts, it can induce widespread panic and chaos.

According to Lambert, it’s key to remain calm for a safe exit from an emergency situation.

Smoke inhalation can easily disorient a person and their ability to think and act rationally. Remember that alcohol consumption magnifies the effects of carbon monoxide, which is very much present in a burning building. When escaping a burning building, never go back inside to retrieve personal belongings or to find people.

While it is important to know how to behave and react during an emergency, taking the necessary precautions to prevent these emergencies in the first place will reduce the risk of unnecessary stress and injury.

“Safety issues can exist in every situation. It’s a matter of being aware and prepared,” Lambert said. “Use common sense, know your local laws and plan ahead as a host.”

If hosting a large gathering or party, hosts should have pre-established rules and expectations for their guests that should include a smoking policy to prevent an unintentional fire caused by an improperly disposed cigarette butt.

Additionally, be cautious of open flames, such as lit candles and unattended cooking, as these can easily lead to an accidental fire.

Hosts should also be mindful of their respective city codes which outline the amount of people allowed in their residence at a single time. This information can be found at your city fire marshal’s office and may be included in an apartment lease or other official contract or document.

State-level fire codes applies outside city limits but does not apply to one-or two family dwellings.

However, if you are unsure of these codes, Lambert said it is best to rent a facility that can accommodate your gathering and is specifically designed to limit unnecessary risks for both you and your guests.

“Abiding by the rules put in place by the West Virginia Fire Commission is crucial,” he said. “Fire codes exist for a reason and are not made to curb fun, but to ensure the safety of everyone — we want to see everyone have fun while being safe.”

For general information and more tips on fire safety, contact the WVU Fire Service Extension at 304-269-0875 or visit