The Sacred Purpose Blog

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 colony at Nevada.  He is currently serving as the Nevada State Fire Marshal.  I am 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.

It is never a question of if a fire will occur, only a question of when it will happen.  It may go without saying, but nobody wants to have a fire.  However, the truth is that the vast majority of fires are unintentional, with only 7 percent being deliberately set.  The other 93 percent are not planned.

When the fire starts, what does your chapter have in place that will protect you, your brothers, and your guests?  What plans do you have that will reduce the damage to your chapter house? 

According to a 2013 report published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) entitled Structure Fires in Dormitories, Fraternities, Sororities and Barracks, each year there are approximately 3,810 fires in these types of structures in the United States.  Annually, these fires caused an average of two deaths, thirty injuries, and $9.4 million in property damage.  Additional untold challenges and costs are caused by emotional distress, dislocation from one’s residence, and personal energy spent rebuilding.

  • 70 percent of these fires began in the kitchen
  • 7 percent of these fires started in bedrooms.  However, bedroom fires were responsible for 27 percent of injuries and 21 percent of property damage
  • 23 percent of all injuries were caused by fires associated with heating equipment
  • Fires are more common between 5-11 p.m., as well a during weekend
  • Electrical distribution and lighting caused the largest property damage from fires

Fortunately, most fires are small.  Ninety-two percent did not produce flame damage that spread beyond the point of origin. Only, two percent of all fires spread to involve more than the room of origin.  This tells us that that a functioning fire protection system reduces the spread of fire.  And, more importantly, this reminds us that well-practiced fire safety plans can save lives by giving people opportunity for escape before the fire spreads. 

What can you do to protect your brothers?  Now is the time to start planning and practicing your fire safety program.  The Resource Guide for the Vice President of Health and Safety includes a helpful checklist for conducting regular fire and building safety inspections.  It is an essential resource for undergraduate and alumni leaders.  The summer months offer an important opportunity to fire inspections and planning.

Because of the critical nature of this topic, this is the first of five articles that will further raise awareness and provide practical ideas for protecting our brothers.

The complete NFPA report can be found on their website, under research reports, or at this link:

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