STOW, Mass. (WWLP) – Fire service leaders are reminding students before they head back to school to be sure that their living spaces have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) alarms, and to know two ways out in case of an emergency.

State Fire Marshal Jon M. Davine states that 2,608 fires have occurred in dorm rooms, fraternities, and sororities in Massachusetts between 2018 and 2022, according to a news release from the Department of Fire Services. Those fires caused six injuries, 11 fire service injuries, and more than $3 million in damages.

“In the weeks and months ahead, many young people will be living away from home here for the first time,” said State Fire Marshal Jon M. Davine. “We’re particularly concerned about off-campus housing because that’s where the data shows the greatest loss of life, but fire safety is vitally important whether you live in a dorm, apartment, single-family home, multifamily dwelling, sorority, or fraternity. Everyone should have working smoke and CO alarms on every level of their residence and know two ways out in an emergency.”

22News stopped by the Amherst Fire Department where Fire Chief Tim Nelson explained the common causes of fires for first time college students, “One of the big things for us, especially the first month and a half of the semester, is cooking. Such as you don’t leave a pan unattended, make sure that when you leave, you turn off your stove, you make sure your oven is turned off.”

Chief Nelson also emphasized using common sense when it comes to fire safety practices, including not smoking inside or covering up a fire alarm and being mindful of candles and space heaters.

Windows, doors, and stairways should always be clear of boxes, furniture, bicycles, or anything else that might affect an escape. Fire doors should never be blocked by anything or chocked open. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms need to be operational all year long, as required by law.

“If your rental doesn’t have smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, insist on them,” said Hyannis Fire Chief Peter J. Burke, Jr. “Landlords are required to provide them but don’t spend a single night unprotected in the meantime. For the price of a pizza, you can go to a hardware store and pick up smoke and CO alarms that could save your life. Choose photoelectric smoke alarms with sealed, long-life batteries, and test them once a month to be sure you’re protected. And if you hear that alarm, leave everything and get out right away. Waiting to evacuate or stopping to retrieve personal items increases your chances of being trapped.”

Working alarms, clearing exit routes, and practicing a plan for using the exits are very important if a fire breaks out.

“Never, ever disable a smoke alarm,” said Chief Burke. “Modern fires burn and spread faster than they did in past decades, and we have less time than ever before to escape a fire at home. Smoke alarms give you the warning you need to get out, stay out, and call 911.”

Students can take steps to prevent them from starting fires in their dorms:

  • Smoking: There is no safe way to smoke, but if you must smoke, do it responsibly. Don’t flick them on the ground, where they can smolder and ignite debris, or grind them out on porches or steps. Use an ashtray on a sturdy surface and put it out, all the way, every time.
  • Electrical: Always plug appliances, such as air conditioners and space heaters, into wall sockets that can handle the current and not power strips or extension cords. Do not overload outlets with multiple devices.
  • Heating: Turn any space heaters off when you are leaving the room or go to sleep. Never leave a space heater unattended.
  • Cooking: Stand by your pan! Don’t leave pots and pans unattended on a lit stovetop, and keep flammable items away from the burners. If a grease fire happens, smother the flames with a lid and then turn off the heat. Cook only when you’re alert and not when you’re drowsy or impaired.
  • Candles: Never leave candles burning unattended. Extinguish them before leaving the room. Even better, switch to battery-powered candles. Some colleges do not allow candles on campus.
  • Lithium-Ion Batteries: Use the charging equipment provided by the manufacturer and disconnect it when the device is charged. Charge phones, laptops, e-cigarettes, e-bike batteries, and other devices on a hard and stable surface, and never a bed, couch, or pillow. If you notice an unusual odor, change in color, change in shape, leaking, or odd noises, stop using the device right away. If you can do so safely, move it away from anything that can burn and call your local fire department.

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