Four out of five campus-related fire deaths happen off-campus, where most students live

For Immediate Release

Ed Comeau, Publisher
Campus Firewatch

Last residence hall or Greek fire death was in 2006

Belchertown MA (September 3, 2013 ) – As students return to school, it is an opportunity to look at where they are at the greatest risk from fire, and information compiled by Campus Firewatch shows that it is not in residence halls or Greek housing, but in off-campus housing.  The last fire death in a residence hall occurred in 2005, and the last fire death in Greek housing was 2006, but each year the toll in off-campus housing continues. Since 2000, 162 people have died in campus-related fires, with four out of five of these occurring in off-campus houses and apartments, where a majority of the nation’s students live.  Last academic year, fires at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire, St. Cloud State University, University of Cincinnati, University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Boston University killed seven students, all in off-campus housing.

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Location of campus-related fire deaths, 2000 to present, Campus Firewatch

Much of the on-campus fire safety success can be attributed to a higher awareness about fire safety which leads to more residence halls being equipped with automatic fire sprinklers, improved fire detection, stronger policies on fire safety and education.  “However, since over 85% of the people are dying in off-campus housing, it is well past time to turn our attention to combating this problem,” said Campus Firewatch Publisher Ed Comeau.  “Much of the housing stock that students rent are older, renovated buildings that were not designed for what they are being used for-housing large numbers of students.  We need to educate students, and the parents that are often paying the rent, on how to pick fire safe housing and communities need to work closely with landlords, making sure that the housing meets minimum codes when it comes to egress, smoke alarms and other code requirements.”

Common factors in a number of the fatal off-campus fires over the years have included:

  • Lack of automatic fire sprinklers
  • Missing or disabled smoke alarms
  • Careless disposal of smoking materials
  • Impaired judgement from alcohol consumption
  • Upholstered furniture on porches or decks

Education is a key component, and Campus Firewatch has created a library of free resources that campuses and communities can use. This “At-a-Glance” resource list, available at Campus Firewatch’s web site under the Resource tab, includes links to videos, guides, posters and much more, all freely available.  Campus Firewatch is also running its annual campus fire safety Twitter Tip-a-Day program @campusfirewatch with Tweets on fire safety messages and links to multimedia resources that schools and communities can retweet using the hashtag #firetipaday.

In addition, September 2013 is the ninth year that states across the nation have designated it as Campus Fire Safety Month. Since it started in 2005, there have been 250 proclamations signed by the nation’s governors, as well as resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, and the full list is available online, also under the Resource tab.

“Students have a lot on their minds when they go back to school, and fire safety is not necessarily one of them,” said Comeau, who has two sons in college.  “Among all of the fire safety lessons, if there is one thing that I would want them to remember, it is to know two ways out, no matter where they are-their residence hall, a friend’s house, a restaurant, movie theater, classroom. A fire can break out anywhere, and knowing two ways out could make all of the difference.”

Campus Firewatch is a social enterprise focusing on campus fire safety that was started in 2000. For more information, visit our website at


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