According to the 2018 Annual Security and Fire Report, between 2015 and 2017, fires in residential halls at Binghamton University increased from five to 15.
The report, which documents crimes, incidents and fires across campus, is compiled using data from the University Police Department (UPD) and the Office of Student Conduct. The report must be conducted annually, as required by the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act of 1990.
Jeanne Clery was a student who was murdered in her dorm at Lehigh University in 1986. Her parents believed the university did not share vital information with its students regarding safety and campaigned for legislation that forces universities to do so. The act is a federal law requiring all universities and colleges that receive federal student financial aid to report safety issues to students.
According to the 2018 report, 15 fires occurred in residential halls during the 2017 calendar year. In 2016, seven fires occurred, and five fires occurred in 2015.
John Paffie, an assistant fire chief at the Vestal Fire Department, said the department doesn’t often respond to fires on campus.
“Luckily, we don’t respond to campus a lot,” Paffie said. “The last ones were arson-related, but that is usually not the case.”
Most of the 2017 fires occurred in College-in-the-Woods, which had a total of five fires, four of which were in Onondaga Hall.
The fires in Onondaga Hall were all listed as arson cases. In three of the fires, burnt papers were found by staff on doors within the building, and in one case, a bulletin board was set on fire. The other 2017 fires took place in Hillside Community, Mountainview College, Newing College, Dickinson Community and Susquehanna Community. All were labeled as accidents. There were no fires reported in Hinman College.
Paffie said most fires are accidental and are usually caused by electrical problems. Often, fires are also caused by cooking, starting when oil catches fire in a pan or food burns badly.
“Pay attention while cooking,” Paffie said. “Don’t leave oil unattended. Don’t think you can run back to your dorm while cooking. Pay attention. Common sense prevails.”
The report references multiple cooking fires. One involved a student placing an electrical plastic kettle on an electric stove, and another started when paper towels were placed too close to a burner.
Connie Corey, director of environmental health and safety at the University, said that despite the increase in fires from 2015 to 2017, no single residence hall saw an increase.
“Reportable fire locations range, so there is no one hall that had a significant increase,” Corey wrote in an email.
According to the University’s website, several safety measures, including testing and inspecting wet fire sprinkler systems in all buildings, inspecting buildings for fire safety compliance, inspecting and coordinating fire extinguisher maintenance, conducting campus fire drills and providing fire safety and extinguisher training, are taken to prevent fires on campus.
The University’s website also lists tips from a website run by Fire Science Online, an organization that provides information regarding careers in fire safety and safety resources. In order to increase fire safety, Fire Science Online suggests that cooking should only be done in designated areas, clutter should be kept away from cooking areas, cooking should never be left unattended and, in the event of microwave fires, the device should be unplugged and the door should remain closed.