Is Your Chapter, Apartment or Dorm at Risk for a Fire?

On past risk assessments of chapter house properties across the Fraternity, the answer seems to be “yes.” The following conditions were frequently identified as unsafe and could easily lead to a loss of property or worse yet—life.

  • Storage of flammable liquids (such as propane tanks, aerosols or paint cans) in an unsecured location inside the chapter house
  • Fire extinguishers that have not been professionally serviced on an annual basis and have not been inspected monthly by a brother to determine if it needs to be recharged or replaced
  • Unattended and inadequately controlled candles
  • Absence of enforced smoking regulations that prohibit smoking in individual rooms
  • Missing or broken handrails—indoor and outdoor—that do not conform to local building code requirements

This list clearly shows that many of our chapter houses contain hazards that may lead to a fire and may inhibit the safe escape of brothers and friends. These are hazards that can also be found in your on-campus dorm and off-campus apartment. All five of these conditions can be corrected through some simple preventative measures.

In fact, several recent fires at Sigma Chi chapters were caused by the unsafe use of candles. What went wrong? The chapter hung sheets and lit tea candles in their chapter room in order to create a solemn atmosphere. Instead, what they created was an immediate fire hazard, endangering the lives of themselves and the pledge class and putting their entire chapter house at risk for destruction. The sheets were hung above the lit candles and you can guess what happened next. The sheets ignited and the flames ran up the wall.

Fortunately, the brothers did many things right to contain the fire and this time no one was seriously injured, but it was a fire that could have been prevented.

These days, candles are found in nearly every home and are used for decoration, relaxation and comfort. But, candles also introduce an open flame into a closed environment. According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, as of Oct. 31,2005, open flames or embers are a leading cause of residential fires in the United States.

What can your chapter do to contain, reduce or eliminate the use of candles in your living environment? What action can you and your brothers take to enact and enforce fire prevention measures in your shared living space? What will you do to protect the lives of your brothers and guests and safeguard the property under your care?