Experts at the West Virginia University Fire Service Extension remind tenants in off-campus housing to be proactive with fire safety.

With two-thirds of all fire related fatalities occurring in homes without functioning smoke detectors, a few minutes of preparation could be the difference between life and death, according to Mark Lambert, director and program leader at the WVU Fire Service Extension.

“Many renters don’t realize it’s the tenant’s job to make sure batteries in smoke detectors are working and to replace batteries if necessary,” said Lambert. “Landlords are legally responsible for installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, but it’s up to tenants to make sure the batteries are up-to-date.”

Lambert recommends that tenants test smoke detectors at least twice per year. Smoke detectors can be purchased for less than $5, according to Lambert, and fire extinguishers can be purchased at most retail department stores and supercenters.

“Prevention is key,” he said. “A few dollars and a few minutes spent on fire protection could save your life.”

As college students move in to off-campus housing for the fall semester, September and October are peak months for fires in college housing, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.

“West Virginia ranks third in the nation for fire related fatalities, and we want to see that change,” said Lambert. “Being proactive with fire prevention is easy, inexpensive and takes only minutes to complete.”

One of the biggest mistakes Lambert sees is when tenants remove batteries from alarms that repeatedly go off, like those in a kitchen. For those areas, Lambert suggests looking into smoke detectors with a hush feature.

In the rare occasion that an off-campus house or apartment doesn’t have a smoke detector, Lambert recommends students immediately report the issue.

“Having a properly working smoke detector is vital when it comes to fire prevention and safety,” said Lambert. “If you don’t see one, first notify the landlord—if that doesn’t work, call the city fire marshal’s office.”

Lambert encourages students to have an evacuation plan in place in case of a fire emergency. This includes establishing proper exits for each room, knowing where to meet and having a list of emergency contacts readily available in case of emergency.

The WVU Fire Service Extension recommends further fire prevention steps for students entering off-campus housing:

• Remain alert while preparing meals in the kitchen, and have a fire extinguisher nearby.
• Never leave candles or burners unattended.
• Properly dispose of cigarette butts.
• Place outdoor grills away from the home, deck railings and overhanging branches.

For general information and tips on fire safety, contact WVU Fire Service Extension at 304-269-0875 or visit



CONTACT: Cassie Thomas, WVU Extension Service

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