Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Peter Mulvihill, Epsilon/Worcester Polytechnic Institute, ’78. Pete is the chapter advisor for our Beta Phi chapter at Nevada. He is currently serving as the Nevada State Fire Marshal. We are grateful for Pete’s expertise and enthusiasm to write a five-part blog series about fire safety. This is a relevant reminder about the very real dangers of fires in fraternity houses. Thank you, Pete, for helping to protect our brothers.
You don’t want to have a fire, but it happens all the same. What can you do right now to prepare for a possible fire?
Before the Fire
- Plan your escape. Know how to get out of every room in the chapter house. Post evacuation maps on the backs of doors to every sleeping room. While you may be comfortable and familiar with the layout of your chapter house, your guests likely are not. Posted evacuation routes will help them get out.
- Practice your escape. Hold fire drills, at least once a quarter, if not required more frequently by your local campus or fire agency. Fire drills test your fire alarm system and reinforce your brothers’ abilities to react and respond. Make the first fire drill of the year a practice and training session with everyone forewarned.
- Familiarize your local fire department with your chapter house. Once a year, at the beginning of the school year, invite the local responding fire company to your chapter house for a familiarization tour. This is not a fire inspection! These are the crews that will respond to an emergency at your house. Every fire department “pre-plans” their response to all commercial and multi-residential properties within their district. They learn where all utility shutoffs are located, how to access the roof or attic, and become familiar with unusual or older construction features that may complicate firefighting operations. It is an excellent opportunity to become familiar with them, their expectations, and what they will do upon arrival.
During an Emergency
- Call 9-1-1! Get help rolling your way first, no matter what the problem is, then assist those around you.
- Get out and stay out! Once you are out of the house and safe, DO NOT go back in, for any reason. The fire department (you called them first, remember!) has the tools, personal protective equipment and breathing apparatus to survive the fire environment, YOU DON’T.
- Account for everyone. Make a head count and account for every brother, visitor or guest. Develop a list of unaccounted people and where they were last seen.
- Only one responsible representative, preferably the chapter president, should talk to the arriving fire department. You will need to update authorities about missing brothers and briefly explain any events leading up to the incident. Stay available for further questions and requests for information.
- After the Emergency
- Make notifications. Call your alumni advisory board and your housing corporation; they will need to notify your insurance carrier. In addition, call the International Headquarters with details about injuries and/or property damage.
- Secure the property. The chapter house is a significant asset, protect it from further damage by boarding up broken windows, covering holes in roofs and securing doorways. Insurance company resources can often arrange for professional assistance in securing the property and reducing additional damage claims. When it is safe to reenter, collect valuables, both tangible and intangible, from the chapter house. The fire department will notify you if and when it is safe to go back inside and will formally transfer responsibility for the property back to you.
- Arrange for temporary housing. This is best done as contingency planning before a fire, flood or earthquake devastates a chapter house. Have a place to go on short notice. Reach out to campus housing authorities and other Greek organizations. Let them know ahead of time what spare capacity, if any, you have to help others if they are in trouble. Community service organizations, such as the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, are also resources for very brief periods of assistance. Alumni in the area may be a resource or know of resources for longer term temporary housing. Alumni may also assist with immediate needs for clothing and the everyday items that are needed.
- Rally the troops—rebuild, restore and resume. Get everyone together and continue forward. For serious incidents, arrange for counseling services both as a group and individually as needed. No one is bulletproof, everyone can use a helping hand at some point.
Please contact the Director of Education or me if you have any questions.
I hope these several articles have helped make your chapter house just a bit safer.
State Fire Marshal Division
Nevada Department of Public Safety
Epsilon Chapter/Worcester Polytechnic Institute, ‘78
For information and case histories of fraternity house fires, see “Structure Fires in Dormitories, Fraternities, Sororities and Barracks,” by Richard Campbell, August 2013, published by the National Fire Protection Association, available on their website, www.nfpa.org under research reports, or at this link: http://www.nfpa.org/~/media/Files/Research/NFPA%20reports/Occupancies/osdorms.pdf
Additional safety tips can be found in the Resource Guide for the Vice President of Health and Safety and at www.nfpa.org/campussafety.