Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Peterson Space Observer

Fire statistics, facts show kitchens are often origin of dorm fires

Commentary by Burke Ferrin

21st Civil Engineer Squadron chief for prevention

Peterson recently experienced a fire in one of its dormitories. While all fires are dangerous, those occurring in dormitories and apartments are particularly threatening due to the large concentration of people living there.

The cause of this particular fire is still under investigation, but Peterson’s fire prevention staff would like to educate our fellow wingmen on fire safety practices that can help dorm residents and those living in apartments off base.

On base, the fire department can enforce these practices but off base, we realize Airmen have to make a common sense choice to keep themselves and their neighbors safe.

Here are a few fire safety reminders:

  • Open flames are not allowed in the dormitories. This includes decorative or scented candles, as well as any form of incense that requires burning. Airmen may have candles in their room for decoration or scent as long as the wicks are not burned. This will be looked at during routine dorm inspections.
  • Do not overload extension cords or multi-outlet power strips. Connecting more than one power strip into another voids its underwriter laboratory listing and could overload a circuit or short the power strip.
  • Cooking appliances in the dorm room are limited to coffee makers and microwave ovens. Toasters may only be used in kitchen areas.
  • Combustible materials such as parachutes, canopies, etc. will not be hung from the ceiling or walls.
  • Appliances with heating elements, such as clothes irons and hairdryers will not be left unattended and will be disconnected from electrical outlets when not in use.
  • Residents should remain in the kitchen when frying, grilling, or broiling food and should turn off the stove when they leave, even if it’s only for a short period of time. Anyone simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food should check it regularly and remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind themselves that they are cooking. Anything that can catch fire, including oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, paper towels or curtains should be kept from the stovetop.

And now for a few cooking facts and figures.

  • Cooking fires are the number one cause of home and dormitory fires and home fire injuries. Nearly all cooking equipment fires start with the ignition of food or other cooking materials such as grease and cooking oil, or other items found in a kitchen such as wall coverings, bags, and curtains.
  • In 2002 through 2005, our nation’s fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 3,300 structure fires in dormitories, fraternity and sorority buildings and barracks. These fires caused an annual average of 7 civilian deaths, 46 civilian fire injuries, and $25 million in direct property damage.

Between 2002 and 2005, cooking equipment was involved in 72 percent of the reported dormitory fires; this includes confined or contained fires. Heating equipment was listed as the equipment involved in 2 percent of these fires; an additional 2 percent were confined heating equipment fires.

Structure fires in these facilities are more common during the evening hours between 5 and 11 p.m., as well as on weekends.

It’s not the fire department’s intention to overly restrict the lifestyle of those living in the dormitories, or in off-base apartments. These fire prevention tips and statistics are historic in nature  –  they’ve shown to be significant contributing factors to fires and fire prevention in the past. By learning from history, perhaps lives will be saved and property preserved. Nobody wants an unexpected house call from the fire department, and certainly not one that involves trying to save all of your personal possessions from fire, smoke and water damage.

We’re very lucky the recent dormitory fire did not result in any human casualties. By following these safety tips, adhering to operation risk management principals, and following dormitory guidelines, the chances of fires like this occurring again will be greatly reduced.

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