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UC fire reminds students to take safety seriously

By Hannah Stein
On January 29, 2013

Trying that new recipe, buying that space heater for your freezing old Oxford house or lighting that pleasantly smelling candle may seem like a good idea, but it could lead to disaster if taken lightly.

Two students from the University of Cincinnati (UC) were killed after a house fire Jan. 1 and in 2005, four of six students perished in a house fire in Oxford, according to Sgt. Jon Varley of the Oxford Police Department (OPD).

The last reported Oxford house fire was in 2005, when a lit cigarette caught a sofa on fire, Varley said. He said the fire could have easily been prevented and the house should have had more smoke detectors.

"It's something people don't think about," he said. "We try to encourage people if they're going to smoke don't go to sleep if they're was a careless fire."

Oxford Fire Department (OFD) applied for the federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program in 2010 and received the $70,000 grant in 2011, although it was not until 2012 when it finally used it to pass out free smoke detectors.

OFD no longer has smoke detectors, but John Detherage, fire chief, said if someone cannot afford a smoke detector OFD has a way to obtain one for them. He said the typical price range for a smoke detector is between $6 and $15.

The fire in Cincinnati has reminded UC students of the importance of fire safety.

Some UC students have been making an effort to prevent another incident like it. UC junior Kathleen Hurley said she did not personally know either of the two students who were killed after the fire, but she still feels the impact.

"When anything happens in the Greek community it's a reminder like this is your family," she said.

Since the incident, she said she has made changes in her daily life to reduce the risk of a house fire.

"I live in a house similar to [the one in the Cincinnati fire]...and two of my roommates have space heaters, so we said 'let's be really careful with these, don't put anything near them, unplug them during the day,'" she said. "We also checked all the smoke detectors."

Hurley said in a situation like this, planning is as good a strategy as any, even simple things like checking to make sure your flat iron is off when you leave.

When it comes to preventing fires, Detherage said the biggest fire hazard is a smoke detector that is not working properly.

"We see it over and over, people take the batteries out of their smoke detectors or they take them down for either smoke when they cook or because of some other illegal activities that may possibly be going on that produces a lot of smoke," Detherage said. "It may cause the alarms to go off and so they take them down and don't put them back up."

Junior Melissa Krueger said she thinks making sure that all smoke detectors have batteries and are working properly is important.

"I know my roommates have sometimes taken the batteries out of smoke detectors because they got annoyed if they were cooking something and it went off and they never put them back in," she said. "Then I found out and put them back in."

Senior Erin Reilly said she understands why people might take the batteries out of smoke detectors, even though she personally does not know anyone who does.

"It's probably not safe but I guess when people are cooking if it gets smoky and you have it under control [and] if you don't want to hear that thing going off then people would take [the batteries] out."

There are two types of smoke detectors: battery-powered and electric. Most of the older houses in Oxford have battery-powered smoke detectors, whereas the newer houses and apartment buildings have electric smoke detectors that are connected to central alarm systems, Detherage said.

"Electric are kind of safer," he said. "But if they want to disable them they'll find a way. They'll cover them up with things such as cups or towels."

Oxford has a program in place that requires realtors to check smoke detectors every two years, Detherage said. There are also regulations for people who receive rental permits such as the number and size of exits. According to Varley, all Oxford houses must have at least two ways to evacuate.

Fraternity houses are different and are inspected by OFD as opposed to realtors, Detherage said. The regulations for each house are different based on the year in which it was built, but some of the newer houses have central alarm systems and sprinklers.

Serious house fires are not a common occurrence in Oxford, Detherage said, but there are about one or two a year that can do a lot of damage to the house.

"We do a lot of cooking fires [like] popcorn in the microwave," he said.

Another way fires can be caused is by overloading the outlets in a house, Varley said.

"A lot of the houses in the north end are older and aren't necessarily up to the challenge of handling that much electricity," he said. "Only run what you need to run, don't leave everything running."

Reilly said she thinks carbon monoxide detectors are also important.

"That was one thing we asked our landlords about and they didn't have them at the time but because that was addressed they put it in for us," she said

Since the Cincinnati fire, students at Miami and UC have been focusing on fire safety to prevent similar incidents happening to them.

"It's something I have always thought about and became aware," Krueger said. "I think it just is another thing that made me realize that it is important."

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