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Fatal Off-Campus Fire Claims the Life of SUNY ESF Student

Fire was the only fatal fire of the 2018-2019 academic year

A fire on Monday, June 10, 2019, claimed the life of Beth Ann Newkirk, a student at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. According to a statement by SUNY ESF Interim President David Amberg, the fire occurred in an off-campus house on Buckingham Avenue in Syracuse, New York.  Ms. Newkirk was unresponsive when she was found in the house by fire fighters and passed away early Tuesday morning. The fire is currently under investigation and Campus Firewatch will report more information as it becomes available.

This was the only fatal fire of the 2018-2019 academic year.

Since Campus Firewatch started tracking fatal college-related fatal fires in 2000, 176 people have been killed in college-related fires (including students and those that may be visiting or staying with the students such as friends and relatives who were present because of the student). Approximately 87% of the fire deaths occur in off-campus housing, where a majority of the students live. Common factors in a number of these fires include:

  • Missing or disabled smoke alarms
  • Lack of automatic fire sprinklers
  • Careless disposal of smoking materials
  • Lack of emergency exits

Since 2000, there has been a steady decrease of college-related fire deaths from a high of 20 in the 2006-2007 academic year to a low of no fire deaths in 2015-2016. While there has been a slight increase in the past two years, this is a significant drop and can be attributed to the work of schools and communities in teaching students and parents about fire-safe housing and how to live a fire-safe lifestyle. More schools are doing fire safety education programs and efforts such as National Campus Fire Safety Month and the Town/Gown Fire Safety Community Service Project are helping to raise awareness even further.

As we start the 2019-2020 academic year, it is important to keep up our efforts. There have already been several significant fires at the start of the school year, including a fire started by an electric skateboard in a high-rise residence hall and an off-campus apartment building that was destroyed in a fire. Smoke alarms, two ways out, and sprinkler systems are critical components, but so is teaching students how to prevent a fire and what to do if one should break out. These are not just lessons for while they are in college, but lessons for life.