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Fire Safety When Living Off-Campus

Fire safety is important wherever your live.

While Vanderbilt University students who live on campus are protected by fire prevention, detection, and suppression systems, students who live off-campus may not be as well protected.

Please consider the following fire safety guidelines when selecting your off-campus residence, and remember that fire safety is everyone’s responsibility. In an apartment, where many homes are clustered into a single building, what each resident does or doesn’t do can have a profound effect on the safety of all building occupants.

Fire Detection

Early warning of a fire can save your life.

  • When apartments do not have independent exits, the fire alarm system should provide warning about fire in an adjoining unit. The buildings should at least be equipped with manual alarms in or near major building exits.
  • If you live in a townhouse or anywhere your living area has more than one floor, be sure that there are detectors on each level, and that a fire detected on one level will sound the alarms on all levels.
  • The detectors most suitable for the bedroom area of your apartment are photoelectric detectors, which respond more quickly to smoldering fires.
  • For more information see Smoke Alarms - Why, Where, and Which from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fire Prevention

Be sure to read through the VU Fire Safety Fact Sheets on Cooking Safety and Electrical Safety.

Please consider avoiding the use of candles or incense, and do not smoke in your apartment, as is the policy for Vanderbilt Residence Halls. However, if you do plan to use any of those items, the following fact sheets may help you do so safely:  Candle Safety Rules and Careless Smoking - Life Saving Tips.

If you will be using a Portable Space Heater, read about Electric Space Heater Safety. Never use a portable kerosene heater inside your home.

If your home has Gas heat or appliances, learn about Carbon Monoxide safety in Exposing an Invisible Killer: The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide.

Space Heater Extension Cord

Evacuation Safety and Planning

  • Plan your escape routes as you move into your off-campus home.
  • Look for emergency lighting in the common exit paths for hallways and stairwells. 
  • Keep flashlights on each level of your residence to aid in evacuating your unit.
  • Choose an evacuation destination that will be well away from burning buildings and out of the way of emergency vehicles responding to a fire in or near your building.
  • Before moving into a second or third floor apartment with only one exit, consider purchasing an escape ladder. 
  • Consult the VU Fire Safety Fact Sheet on Evacuation Safety.
  • If you have disabilities that could hinder safe evacuation, please review the information provided by the United States Fire Administration concerning Fire Safety for People with Disabilities .
  • If you will be living in a high-rise apartment building read through this fire safety checklist for renters.

Fire Suppression

Even if everyone in your building is as careful about fire safes as possible, there is still the chance you or a neighbor might have a fire in your apartment. If you have a small fire in your unit you may choose to attempt to extinguish it. To do so requires access to a fire extinguisher no more than 75 feet away and knowledge of how to use it. If you have to walk more than that from the site of a fire to get an extinguisher, by the time you return the fire will likely be too big to extinguish it safely. For this reason, it is preferable to have an ABC Multipurpose Dry Chemical extinguisher in each apartment. For multistory apartment units, an extinguisher on each level is advisable.

Sprinklers save lives by slowing the spread of smoke and fire. If your apartment building is over three stories tall, or if it is a wood frame multi-tenant building of any height, the building complex should be protected with automatic water sprinklers.

Please read the VU Fire Safety Fact Sheets on Fire Extinguishers and Sprinklers for more information about fire suppression.