Fire Safety at A Glance

Fire Safety at A Glance is an excerpt Boston University Research Compliance Environmental Health and Safety;  visit the website for additional information.

No open flames — that means no candles

Believe it: Lighting a candle is one of the most dangerous things you can do. According to the National Fire Protection Association, candles started more than 17,000 fires in 2004 alone. So buy a flashlight and use that in a power outage. (If power outages are a consistent problem, contact your utility provider or, as a last resort, the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.) If you want to make your place smell nice, buy an air freshener.

Candles, incense, and open flames are prohibited in Boston University residences, as is smoking.

Avoid electrical hazards such as overloaded outlets

Be smart. No matter where you live, you should never overload an outlet with multiple extension cords, use cheap or frayed cords, or run cords under rugs. Fire officials recommend power-surge protectors that are approved by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). Keep fabrics away from lamps, of course. And never walk away from a plugged-in iron or go to bed with a space heater on. Note that the University forbids certain appliances, such as halogen lamps and electric blankets, from its residences.

Have a working smoke alarm

All BU residences have smoke detectors that are diligently maintained. If you live in an off-campus apartment in Boston or Brookline, your landlord is required to provide a smoke detector. (You may need to change the alarm’s batteries yourself.) “Smoke alarm” should be on your checklist when looking at apartments. If your current place has no alarm, bring it up with your landlord. If the landlord is unwilling to fulfill this requirement, contact Boston Office of Housing Stability or Brookline’s Health Department, as appropriate — but don’t hesitate to go out and buy an alarm in the meantime. Also note, fire officials recommend that smoke alarms be of the photoelectric variety, rather than the less efficient ionization type.

You may be tempted — especially if you’re a bad cook — to consider the smoke alarm a nuisance, and to take its batteries out. Don’t do that.

When an alarm sounds, take it seriously

Don’t wait around wondering whether there is a real fire. Don’t hit “save” and print your term paper or grab treasured mementos and family heirlooms. Leave the building. Failure to evacuate when a fire alarm sounds is a serious violation of BU’s residential policy if you live on campus — and simply unwise no matter where you live.

If there is indeed a fire, you may need to crawl out in order to avoid asphyxiation from smoke — the greatest danger in a fire. Watch this video of a safe evacuation to see how it’s done.

Use caution when cooking

Never leave boiling pots or sizzling pans unattended. If you do start a fire in the kitchen, use a Class B or Class C fire extinguisher if you are comfortable doing so. If you don’t have a fire extinguisher (which you should), you can smother a fire with baking soda. (Never throw water on a grease fire; that will cause it so spread.) Always remember that your main concern during a fire should be to evacuate, not extinguish. Fire can spread rapidly and the smoke can knock you out. You can do a lot more outside, calling 911, than you can inside, unconscious.

Appliances such as hot pots, hot plates, coffee pots, and most microwave ovens are prohibited in BU’s dormitory-style residences.

Keep a fire extinguisher handy

Go to your nearest hardware store and pick up a Class B or Class C fire extinguisher. Make sure you know how to use it, instead of trying to read the directions during a fire. And remember that your primary responsibility during a fire is to evacuate. When in doubt, flee.

All University residences have fire extinguishers, which are, of course, only to be used in the event of a fire. Setting off a fire extinguisher for the heck of it is the quickest, not to mention most clichéd, way to get yourself kicked out of housing, and possibly out of the University itself. The same goes for tampering with fire safety equipment.

Grill safely — if at all (you might be breaking the law)

Boston and Brookline prohibit the use of charcoal grills on wooden porches. In addition to the fire hazard, these grills produce a good deal of carbon monoxide. Oops, you already used a charcoal grill? At least douse the flames with water when you’re finished. Otherwise those embers will stay lit long after everyone has gone to bed.

Massachusetts law prohibits gas grills from being stored or used inside or above the first floor of any residence — that includes balconies, decks, porches, rooftops, and, of course, fire escapes. A grill should be set up on level ground away from walls, trees, porch railings, or other combustible materials. Keep a fire extinguisher within reach. Please read the City of Boston’s barbecue safety tips before operating a gas grill.

No barbecuing is allowed on campus except at officially sanctioned events supervised by Campus Dining Services.

Party smarter

Of all the risks you’re taking when you and your roommates decide to throw a party — the chances of disciplinary or legal consequences, etc. — the most serious is that of physical harm befalling you and your guests thanks to a drunken mishap. Everyone wants to have a good time, but as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) puts it, you’d really better “assign a non-impaired event monitor.” In other words, somebody’s gotta be the Sober Guy. (or Sober Girl.) Never mind that it’s simply a good idea to have an alert roommate keep tabs on all goings-on, preventing thefts and minor damage. Most crucially, someone should watch out for unattended cigarettes, fallen lamps and other potential hazards. Draw straws, make deals — but it needs to happen.

Know your escape routes, and keep them clear

If you live off-campus, make sure your apartment has at least two ways out. One of these is likely to be a fire escape. Don’t think of yours as a storage space. It needs to be free of boxes, bikes, or anything that would block or slow your escape in the event of a fire.

You should also draw up a floor plan and map all the exit routes. Designate a spot outdoors where you would meet to make sure all roommates got out. Then practice escaping. To mimic conditions during a real fire, you should even practice crawling your way out, with your eyes closed. Maybe you’ll feel silly — so what? It’s better to memorize this now than figure it out on the spot.

Know what to ask before signing a lease

The FEMA Campus Fire Safety  lists the questions you should ask a prospective landlord about fire safety. Print it out, put it on a clipboard so they’ll know you mean business, and bring it with you when checking out apartments. And get satisfactory answers before you sign anything.