Review Your Past Year for Future Safety

As another school year ends on college and university campuses around the country, it is a natural time to reflect back on what fire safety challenges we faced during the past year and what we can do to reduce the chances of fire on our campuses this next year. For the majority of campuses across the nation, this last year saw a very safe fire year. Most fires that took place this past year were small in size and were almost always confined to the room of origin. Once again, cooking fires were the most common type of small fire encountered on campuses, followed by small lab or bench-top fires. Rubbish or trashcan fires were also a leading cause of campus fires.

As your school year ends it would be a good time to look at your fire losses, and look at not only what types of training need to take place to reduce the risk of these fires happening again, but to also look at what went right as far as training and building performance.

There are many elements built into a facility that are part of the fire safety system for that building. Fire alarm systems, fire sprinkler systems, fire extinguishers, fire-rated walls and doors, exit signs, emergency lighting, and stairwells and corridor systems are all elements that play some role when there is even a small fire in a building. Outside the building, fire lanes, fire hydrants, and evacuation points play a key role each time there is a fire event.

Review Past Year Incidents
Take the time now to review incidents from this past year and look for indications that any of these built-in elements did not perform as expected. Review all the incident reports for fires and fire alarms on campus. Were there reports that the alarm could not be heard or didn’t activate on a small smoke incident? Did the building occupants use extinguishers and nearest pull stations to report and extinguisher the fire?

In addition to incident reports, review work orders for repairs completed or still outstanding for fire dampers, fire doors, alarm systems, and sprinkler systems. Is there a correlation between work orders and the locations of incidents? Look for increases in work requests to determine if portions of your life safety systems are nearing the end of their life cycles and schedule replacement of those systems — especially if you can also see from incident reports fire incidents within the building.

Review Electrical System Work Orders
Review electrical system work orders. A re there indications that the distribution system in the building is aging? Can you see an increase in failures or faults in electrical components? In addition, take time to look at water pressures for sprinkler systems. Has there been a drop in pressure from the previous year?

Summer is a busy time for maintenance on every campus. Time spent looking at fire-prone areas and making sure that maintenance is performed on the built-in fire safety components according to schedule will help reduce future incidents and also minimize the chances of fire growing from incipient stage fires to larger fires that can spread to multiple rooms or floors. Of course, this will also reduce the chances of injury or deaths from fires on your campus, as well as reduce the possibility of fire impacting campus research and educational programs.

NFPA Standards for Testing and Maintenance
See the following NFPA Standards for requirements for testing and maintenance:
  • NFPA 10 Fire Extinguishers
  • NFPA 25 Fire Sprinkler Systems
  • NFPA 72 Fire Alarm Systems
  • NFPA 80 Fire Doors
Visit for a full list of life safety system testing requirements. Also, contact your local fire department for any local standards for life safety system testing and maintenance requirements.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.