September is Campus Fire Safety Month

Best Roommates Evah! – Working Smoke Alarms and Two Ways Out

Massachusetts is the home away from home to thousands of college students, and most upper classmen live off-campus. Every student has the right to safe housing and that includes working smoke alarms and two ways out. In student dormitories, fraternities, and sororities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts alone, 2,997 fires occurred in the last five years (2014-2018) resulting in six civilian injuries, six fire service injuries, and an estimated $1.4 million in damages.

State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said, “College is the start of a young adult’s journey and injury or death from fire should not cut that journey short.” While most colleges work to make sure dormitories have fire alarm systems and fire sprinklers where required, officials are most concerned about the safety of off-campus housing. Across the nation, according to information compiled by Campus Firewatch, the last fatal fire in on-campus student housing occurred in 2005 and the last fatal fire in Greek housing occurred in 2006. Since that time, every student-housing related fatal fire has occurred in off-campus housing. In Massachusetts, two college students have died in off-campus housing fires in the last decade: James Huffman, age 21 and Binland Lee, age 22.

State Fire Marshal Ostroskey stated, “We need the help of both students and their parents to make sure smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are still working and exits are still clear three months from now. If you’re old enough to live on your own, you’re old enough to take responsibility for the fire safety of everyone in the building.” Sometimes smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working on move in day, but are later disabled by tenants, putting everyone at risk.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission, NFPA, USFA, and Campus Firewatch collaborated on a national campaign called See It Before You Sign It to encourage parents to see the off-campus apartment where their young adult will be living before signing the lease.

Ostroskey reminds parents and young adults that they should “feel free to contact local housing, building or fire authorities for an inspection if they have any concerns about the safety of an apartment they have rented.”

In 2016, a group of fire chiefs, building officials, college safety officials and campus fire safety advocates met to share strategies for enforcing fire and building codes in off-campus housing. They launched a public awareness campaign about the importance of working smoke alarms and two ways out, called “Best Roommates Evah!” Go to for more information.

For a quick list of resources and links to educational materials, please go to the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services website and search on College Fire Safety.