Skip to main content

WVU Fire Service Extension urges students to put fire safety first

Morgantown, W.Va. – While classes on many local college campuses are getting underway, the West Virginia University Fire Service Extension urges students to take basic steps to get used to their new dorms and apartments so that in the case of a fire, they’ll be safe.

The National Fire Protection Agency reports that across the nation, fire departments respond to more than 11 dorm fires a day, and every campus-related fire fatality reported nationwide in the last five years has been in off-campus housing.

According to Mark Lambert, director of the WVU Fire Service Extension, students in dorms and off-campus apartments both need to take fire safety into their own hands.

“College students have opportunities to grow as adults in many ways beyond the classroom,” said Lambert. “With freedom to make their own choices, young adults are also responsible for their own safety in their home away from home. They need to make sure that they’re taking steps to be prepared in an emergency.”

While on-campus housing, such as a dormitory, may provide the basics, such as a sprinkler system and working smoke alarms, those living there still need to be aware of some basic fire safety measures. Lambert noted the biggest is to have an evacuation plan.

“Many on-campus buildings may have an evacuation plan already in place. If you’re unfamiliar with it, ask your resident assistant, take notes about exits and stairwells, and practice all fire drills seriously,” said Lambert.

He added that those in dormitories should not disable or obstruct installed safety devices — that includes leaving batteries in smoke detectors, not hanging belongings from sprinklers and not blocking doors or windows. Additionally, check the college’s rules about candles and permitted electric appliances in the room.

If living in an off-campus house or apartment, the burden usually shifts to the student to check and maintain fire safety equipment, even if it’s provided. Lambert noted that sometimes landlords provide smoke detectors, but they may not ensure they’re working or have batteries. Students should verify that smoke alarms are working and are located in each sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and at least one is located on every level of the dwelling.

Students are also encouraged to ensure there are two ways out of every room, including windows, and make sure that those pathways aren’t obstructed or inoperable. Parents and students who are concerned about housing safety can contact the local building code enforcement office or fire department and request an inspection.

Cooking is another area where students may be responsible for themselves for the first time and can be a source of concern — 86 percent of dormitory fires are caused by cooking mishaps.

“New cooking equipment also has a learning curve, and it may take a few times to familiarize yourself with it,” Lambert said. “Most importantly never leave the kitchen while cooking and only cook when you’re alert, not sleepy or drowsy from medicine or alcohol.”

Students should also check with the local fire department for any restrictions before using a barbeque grill or fire pit, and check with landlords about designated smoking areas.

For more information about the WVU Fire Service Extension, visit

Connecting the people of West Virginia to the University’s resources and programs is the primary goal of WVU Extension Service and its 55 offices throughout the state. Local experts, like WVU Extension’s agents and specialists, work to help improve the lifestyles and well-being of youths, workforces, communities, farms and businesses through trusted research in the counties in which they serve.

To learn more about WVU Extension programs, visit, or contact your local office of the WVU Extension Service.



CONTACT: Zane Lacko, WVU Extension Service, 304.293.8986;