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Published: Wednesday, 4/13/2005

Ohio leads nation in college-fire fatalities

Universities drill students in fire safety from the moment they set foot in a dormitory.

Still, Ohio leads the nation in student-fire fatalities.

From January, 2000, through the fire Sunday in Oxford, Ohio, that killed three Miami University students in an off-campus house, 12 Ohio college students died in fires, said Ed Comeau, director of the Center for Campus Fire Safety, a nonprofit group in Amherst, Mass.

All but one of the Ohio fire fatalities occurred off campus. Nationwide, 74 students have died in fires the last five years. Of those, 77 percent took place in off-campus residences, Mr. Comeau said.

"The real danger for students is the off-campus environment," Mr. Comeau said.

Michigan had one fatality in the same period - a student who died in August, 2002, in a Michigan Technological University fraternity house fire.

"What happened at Oxford can happen anywhere," said Capt. Mike Instone of the Bowling Green Fire Division. "You're talking about students who, for the first time in their lives - they're on their own. Without guidance from an elder, they let their guard down."

Toledo and Bowling Green have laws that prohibit more than three unrelated people from living together. When students in whatever number rent a house, it is a private home.

"I can't just pull up in my fire truck and say, 'I want to inspect your house,'‚óŹ" said Larry Hunter, an inspector with the Toledo Fire Department's fire prevention bureau."

Captain Instone added: "When you rent a house, you have rights."

He works with the Office of Residence Life at Bowling Green State University to put into force a fire-safety program for the dormitories. BGSU and the University of Toledo are retrofitting residence halls with sprinklers.

UT holds a fire safety program for incoming students, said David Hopka, the school's director of safety and risk management.

In Bowling Green, "the reason the fire department is working with the university is in the hope that [students] carry a lot of the things they learn forth into the community," Captain Instone said.

Mr. Comeau said universities need to reinforce fire-safety messages when they hold programs for students planning to move off campus: Have smoke detectors with working batteries. Don't run extension cords under carpets. Put out a grease fire with an extinguisher or by covering the pan, but don't use water.

Students won't be penalized if they call firefighters to inspect a home or apartment, Captain Instone said.

"Somehow, some way, we need to get the word to these off-campus students that they have to follow through with fire safety," Captain Instone said. "And if they need help, we're here to help them. If you're missing a smoke detector, call your landlord. Or call us. And we'll call your landlord."



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