Federal report prompts fire prevention, safety encouragement from Purdue fire chief

December 1, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University fire chief Kevin Ply is using a newly released 15-year federal report to educate students on fire prevention and safety.

The report, released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency's division of U.S. Fire Administration, shows that from January 2000 to May 2015, 85 fires around U.S. college campuses killed 118 people. It is an average of nearly eight deaths a year.

Ply is asking students to take the threat of fire seriously and to think about the what-ifs, whether in their own on-campus or off-campus housing units, fraternities or sororities. He's urging parents to be actively involved.

"Parents and students both should take an active role, first when deciding on housing, and second on the do's and don'ts to prevent fires," said Ply, the immediate past president for the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association and the 2010 Indiana Fire Chief of the Year.

FEMA's 15-year report shows that 94 percent of college community fires occurred in off-campus housing. The leading cause was smoking, at 29 percent. Electrical issues, cooking and arson also were among leading causes.

"Alarmingly, alcohol consumption was a factor in 76 percent of the fatal fires, and in 58 percent of the cases, smoke alarms were either tampered with or missing," he said.

Purdue's fire department has safety tips and prevention measures available at http://www.purdue.edu/ehps/fire/docs/fire_prevention_brochure.pdf

Among them:

* Be aware of your surroundings, and if an event gets to be too crowded to move around, leave.

* Never throw any heat source, such as a cigarette, in the trashcan, even if you think the spark is out.

* Use an approved power fault electrical strip to plug in your electronics, and never overload an outlet or run a cord under a rug.

* Make sure there is a working smoke detector, and know at least two escape routes.

* Keep the hallways and exits free from debris and furniture.

* Never ignore a fire alarm.

* Always use stairs to get out during a fire alarm, never an elevator.

* If a fire does occur, stay calm, get out immediately and then call 911.

Purdue's fire department includes two full-time fire prevention specialists assigned to prevention, education and inspection activities. The two visit each of the 64 fraternities, sororities and cooperatives to address fire and life safety issues.

In 2009, the Purdue Fire Department developed a Fire and Life Safety Resource Guidebook, which has been given to each of the 64 houses. The book includes detailed information on the state's fire and building codes, required compliance and maintenance regulations needed for the houses, emergency preparedness and evacuation planning, electrical safety and general do's and don'ts.

The two fire prevention specialists also conduct formal inspections of each house. These inspections are designed to identify any safety issues and ensure compliance with Indiana codes.

The fire prevention specialists also work with the 16 different Purdue Residence Hall communities. Not only do these halls get inspected annually, they train the RA staff members in fire safety and prevention, fire extinguishers and first-aid safety each year. 

Writer: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu 

Contact: Kevin Ply, 765-494-6919, kmply@purdue.edu 

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