Students - Fire Safety


When young people attend college or university, they will often be living away from home for the first time. This can be a concern for parents as they try to ensure their children will be safe when they're not living under the same roof. The following is important fire safety information that every student should know before moving away from home. Parents should discuss these basic fire safety rules with their kids before dropping them off at their new dwelling.

Cooking is a leading cause of home fires.

  • If the student's accommodation has cooking facilities, there are some basic fire safety rules they must follow to prevent cooking fires: A stovetop fire can start in a flash, so stay in the kitchen when something is cooking on the stove.
  • Keep all combustible items a safe distance away from the stove. This includes tea towels, wooden or plastic spoons and paper towels.
  • Keep a pot lid near the stove to smother flames if a fire starts in a pot.



  • The use of candles is becoming more and more popular, especially among young people. To prevent candle fires: Use tea lights or votive candles in non-combustible containers as they are generally a safer choice than tapers.
  • Place the candles in a location where they can't be knocked over or come in contact with combustible items.
  • Blow out all candles before leaving the room or going to bed.


Space Heaters

The central heating systems in older accommodations are often supplemented with space heaters.

  • To prevent heating fires: Keep the space heater at least one metre away from anything that can burn, such as paper, bedding, furniture and curtains.
  • Turn off the space heater before going out or going to bed.


Social Gatherings

Parties are as much a part of student life as attending classes. While most student parties are harmless fun, the consumption of alcohol combined with cooking or smoking can create a serious fire risk. To minimize the risk of fires during or after parties:

  • Avoid over-crowding. The more people attending the party, the easier it is to lose control of the situation.
  • Encourage guests to smoke outside. Consider putting up no smoking signs that direct guests to an outside smoking area.
  • Refrain from burning candles during parties. They can easily be knocked over or ignite nearby combustibles, unnoticed.



Fires caused by smoking can be deadly. Even if they don't smoke themselves, chances are the student will have friends that do. To prevent smoking fires:

  • Encourage smokers to go outside.
  • Keep large, deep ashtrays on hand that will reduce the risk of ashes and cigarette butts falling onto rugs or upholstery.
  • Allow ashes to cool completely before disposing.


Electrical Equipment

Overloaded circuits and octopus wiring are dangerous electrical hazards that can be avoided. To prevent fires caused by electrical equipment:

  • Use an approved power bar with a circuit breaker and surge protector to plug in computer and stereo equipment.
  • Avoid the use of extension cords as permanent wiring.
  • Make sure electrical cords are not concealed under carpets or rugs where they can be easily damaged.


Smoke Alarms

If a fire does occur, it is critical that the dwelling have working smoke alarms to alert occupants as soon as possible.

  • The responsibility for smoke alarm installation and maintenance lies with the homeowner or landlord; however, it is a good idea for parents to provide their child with a smoke alarm for his or her bedroom.
  • It is against the law for tenants to disable or tamper with a smoke alarm.
  • If a smoke alarm activates due to steam from the shower or cooking on the stove, oven or toaster, ask the landlord to move the alarm to a different location, or to install a smoke alarm with a pause feature.


Fire Escape Planning

When the smoke alarm sounds, everyone must know what to do and where to go. Encourage students to develop a fire escape plan, keeping the following in mind:

  • Know two ways out of every room, if possible. The first way out would be the door. The alternate escape could be a window that can be exited safely. Make sure all designated escape routes are accessible and free of clutter.
  • Leave the building as quickly as possible. Once outside, don't re-enter the building for any reason.
  • Call 9-1-1 from outside the building using a cell phone or neighbours phone.



Before signing a lease, students are encouraged to ask their potential landlords some questions about fire and tenant safety. Several suggested questions are provided below.


1. Are smoke detectors installed outside all sleeping areas? Can I test them now?

It’s not enough just to ask if they are installed; students should ask to actually test smoke detectors. Landlords should regularly be checking their smoke detectors, especially before they search for new tenants. If a student finds that there are smoke detectors that don’t work, sometimes the solution is just new batteries. But other times, the smoke detectors will need to be replaced. This can be a red flag.


2. Does every single bedroom have a safe fire or emergency exit?

In some cases, having only one alternate exit is not enough (depending on the layout of the unit and location of bedrooms). It’s imperative that every tenant has a means for safe escape in the event of a fire or emergency. This is especially important for basement units. Windows in a basement bedroom must be large enough for a tenant to crawl through, in case the emergency exit door is not reachable in the event of a fire. There are specific measurements that must be adhered to, in order for the basement unit to be a legal rental accommodation (this varies from region to region).


In addition, it’s important to actually test alternate exits such as windows and doors. For example, when a student is considering a basement unit, it’s recommended to measure and open all of the windows to ensure they aren’t sealed, painted shut or stubborn to open.


3. Is there a carbon monoxide alarm(s) installed? Can I test it now?


This question may not apply to all types of buildings, as some older buildings may not be required to have carbon monoxide alarms installed. Nonetheless, it’s still a question that should be answered by a landlord; especially in newer buildings where it may be a legal requirement (this varies from region to region). Whether stipulated or not by a city’s regulations, it’s recommended to plug in a carbon monoxide alarm.


4. Are there GFC (ground fault circuit-interrupter) outlets installed in the bathroom(s) and kitchen?

For electrical safety, all outlets within close proximity to toilets, sinks and other running water faucets should have GFC style outlets (this may be a legal requirement in some regions).

In addition, it’s recommended to make sure there are enough outlets in the accommodation to avoid the use of multiple extension cords.  Extension cords should not be used as permanent wiring.


5. Is there a fire extinguisher within the rental unit? If so, what type?  Also, has it been inspected or tested recently?


In most cases, landlords equip their rental units with small fire extinguishers, especially within kitchen areas (this may be a legal requirement in some regions). There are three types of extinguishers: Class A, Class B and Class C. It’s important that the correct class be used for specific type of fires.

  • Class A is for ordinary fires
  • Class B is for flammable liquids
  • Class C is for electrical fires


It’s also important that fire extinguishers are routinely inspected and tested to ensure functionality (inspection dates are usually documented on each extinguisher).


6. Has there ever been a fire in this residence? If so, what was the cause and outcome?


Knowing the history of a building or apartment is important. If there has been a fire at the residence previously, it’s crucial to ensure that the property has been adequately repaired, inspected and approved by authorities that it meets safety guidelines.

7. Is this rental currently registered and certified (if required by the city)?

In some cases, municipalities have local by-laws in place that govern matters related to rental housing. This may involve having the fire department or a city inspector verify that the rental meets safety standards. Not all municipalities have licensing programs in effect, so this question may not be applicable in some regions.


Students, parents and landlords are advised to do research and/or contact their city to confirm whether certification is a requirement or not. As well, they are encouraged to check with their local fire department regarding fire safety regulations and laws. Most of this information will be available online.


To Learn More:

For more information about fire safety in student accommodations, contact your local fire department. As well, review the National Fire Protection Association andToronto Fire Services pages. Tufts University has also put together a helpful fire safety guide for off-campus housing selection.


Also, Ontario residents can visit: