Fire safety comes in many forms- drills, procedures, seminars, dedicated months/weeks, etc. But nothing prepares you for the scare of an unplanned fire alarm, especially when you are in the classroom. No matter what, when you are a teacher, your students are your first priority. It’s the extra effort that you put in as a teacher that ensures everyone stays safe during an emergency, like a fire.
In honor of Fire Safety Month, we wanted to share why and when fires happen in schools, and what else you can do to encourage fire safety.
A Brief History of School Fire Safety
On March 4, 1908, a fire broke out at the Lake View School in Ohio. There was only one staircase in the four-story building with no fire doors or exits. Between the oiled floors and the wood interior, the fire quickly caught and trapped students and staff inside, ultimately killing 172 students, 2 teachers, and a rescuer.
That tragedy did more than just make headlines. It changed the face of fire safety in schools and public buildings. As a result, today’s schools have fire escapes and exit plans, sprinkler systems and alarms, and even push bars on exit doors – rather than doorknobs — for easy access to the outside.
School Fire Trends
Schools may not have oiled floors anymore but they do have plenty of flammable materials; furniture, paper, cooking materials, electric cords, and even chemicals in the science lab.
Whether as a result of these hazards or something else, there were an average of 3,230 school fires annually from 2014-2018, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
- Fires most often started in a bathroom or school locker.
- Two-thirds of the fires occurred between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., roughly when students are present at school.
- Two out of every five fires were started intentionally.
Prevention and preparedness are key to staff and students staying safe in the event of a fire.
Fire Safety Checklist for Your Classroom
You can set the stage for fire safety with your students in your classroom. Here’s how.
- Practice fire drills with students so that they know how to respond to a fire alarm.
- Pair special needs students with a classmate for drills.
- Make sure your room map clearly marks exits and shows two or more escape routes.
- Keep your class list with contact information by the door so you can easily grab it as you leave.
- Make sure combustible materials are away from heaters.
- Check that the decorations hanging from the ceiling do not block sprinklers.
- Make sure there are no flammable items or paper on or above the exit door.
- Check electrical cords and appliances for wear. Disconnect them when not in use.
- Avoid overloading outlets.
- Do not use candles or open flames in the classroom.
- Invite your local fire department to come in for a presentation on fire safety.
- Incorporate a fire safety curriculum. You’ll find great resources on websites like Fire Safe Kids and Fire Facts.
Fire Safety Checklist for Your School
Fire safety is a schoolwide effort. You may wish to share this checklist with your school administrator.
- Store trash away from the building; lock lids for extra safety.
- Boost exterior lighting with motion sensors.
- Trim trees and shrubs around the building. Consider fire-resistant landscaping, which are shrubs and trees that store water and take longer to burn. Plant them around the perimeter 30 feet from the school and 10 feet from each other.
- Put alarms on doors, windows, ventilator openings, roof hatches to prevent vandalism that can lead to arson.
- Ask neighbors to be alert for signs of vandalism.
- Make sure there is clear access to exits and to alarms.
- Hold monthly fire drills with staff and students that are both scheduled and unexpected.
- Review the emergency evacuation plan annually and make sure the school is up to code from sprinkler systems to cafeteria equipment, unobstructed doorways, and more. Your local fire department can help guide you.
- Do a walk-through with staff so they know the locations of the fire exits.
- Do not allow cars to block fire lanes in the event of an emergency.
Fire Safety Checklist for the College Dorm
College is when students are on their own for the first time. Share this list with your college-age son or daughter to keep fire safety top of mind.
- Cook only in designated areas in the dorm building.
- Keep cooking areas clutter-free.
- In case of a fire in a microwave, shut the door and unplug the appliance. Wait until the first goes out.
- Make sure you have a working smoke alarm.
- Identify the two closest exits to your room.
- Report fire equipment that is vandalized.
- Know the locations of the fire alarms and how to use them.
You may not be able to predict when a fire will break out, but you can anticipate it and practice fire safety- at home and in the classroom.
Stay prepared, stay safe.
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