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The United States Department of Fire Administration published a useful report titled "Campus Fire Fatalities in Residential Buildings" detailing the factors that are leading to the unnecessary fire deaths of college students.
The study provides an analysis of the last 16 academic years from 2000 through 2015. During this time there were 85 fatal fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities and off-campus housing, resulting in 118 fatalities — an average of approximately seven per school year.
The key insights for higher education leaders, students and their families are these:
- An astonishing 94% of fatal campus fires examined took place in off-campus housing.
- Smoke alarms were either missing or had been tam- pered with (disconnected or battery removed) in 58% of fatal campus fires.
- Fire sprinklers were not present in any of the 85 fatal campus fires.
- A disproportionate number of fatal campus fires occurred on the weekend — 70% on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
- Males were more likely than females to die in campus fires, accounting for 67% of all victims.
- Alcohol was a factor in 76% of all fatal campus fires — fires where at least one of the students was drinking and, according to reports, legally drunk, which is at or above 0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration (BAC).
- Smoking (29%) was the leading cause of fatal fires in campus housing, followed by intentional actions (16%), electrical (11%) and cooking (9%), with 18% of the fires classified as cause undetermined.
- The adage “nothing good happens after midnight” rings true for fatal campus fires, with 73% occurring between midnight and 6 a.m.
Insights for Student Housing and University Risk Managers:
The report provides comprehensive information about how to reduce and prevent injuries and deaths on college campuses in the future.
- On-campus residential housing has become safer, with modern alarm systems and fire sprinklers protecting students. The last fire fatality in an on-campus dormitory took place in April 2005.
- Smoking is now prohibited in most college residence halls. Along with intricate alarm systems and fire suppression equipment, the problem of smoking-caused deaths is virtually nonexistent on campus.
- Off-campus living remains the highest risk for fatal fires, with more than 90 percent of campus fire deaths occurring in these dwellings. Colleges need to work with the surrounding neighborhoods. Universities are often the financial juggernaut in these towns and cities, and they have the ability to effect change.
This report also demonstrates the value of the reporting required under the Clery Act. Though some schools are reluctant to publish data this illustrates the benefits of best practices that colleges and universities have implemented.
The report's conclusion suggests a broad message for the stakeholders. Specifically it reveals "Ex malo bonum,” the Latin phrase meaning “out of bad comes good,” has taken hold on many college campuses. At GradGuard, we seek to help schools implement best practices that help protect their students from unexpected financial losses. Our student benefit programs - particularly tuition and renters insurance programs - do make "good out of bad".
Please contact us to learn more about how we can support your mission.