A Guide for Parents and Students
Parents have many issues to consider when seeking suitable accommodation for a youth attending college or university. The following information will help to determine if potential accommodation make the grade when it comes to fire safety.
It is the law in Ontario to have working smoke alarms on every storey and outside all sleeping areas. The law applies to single family, semi-detached, townhomes and apartments (including basement apartments), whether owner-occupied or rented. Rooming houses have specific regulations about smoke alarms or fire alarm systems. In addition to smoke alarms within each unit or suite, apartment buildings and student residences operated by the school may also have a building fire alarm system. Make sure the landlord, administrator or superintendent identifies and explains the fire alarm and detection features in the building and unit.
Carbon Monoxide Alarms
The Ontario Building Code requires carbon monoxide (CO) alarms in new buildings that contain a fuel-fired appliance. However, many existing buildings were constructed prior to this requirement and may not be equipped with CO alarms. If the building has a fuel-fired (natural gas, oil, propane or wood) appliance, a CO alarm should be installed. Check with the fire department or municipal office to determine if there are by-laws requiring CO alarms.
Students often find accommodation in older homes that have been converted to apartments or rooming houses. At the time of the conversion, a building permit should have been obtained to ensure that fire safety features such as proper exits and fire separations between units are provided. Ask the owner if the property complies with the Building Code and Fire Code and to explain the fire safety features.
It is important to consider how people will escape from a room or apartment in an emergency. Every room or apartment requires adequate exits that will permit unobstructed escape from the building. Make sure to ask the landlord or superintendent to identify all of the designated exits. All windows and doors should open fully and easily. Stairways and hallways must not be used for storage as this can pose serious fire safety hazards. Furniture and other obstacles can physically block exits and may fill hallways or stairways with smoke if they catch fire. This practice must be strictly avoided.
Fire Escape Plans
In a fire emergency, everyone must know what to do and where to go. Large apartment buildings and student residence buildings require a fire safety plan, which informs the occupants about emergency procedures. Ask the building administrator or superintendent to explain the procedures in the fire safety plan. Smaller apartment buildings and houses that have been converted to apartments or lodging rooms may not have a fire safety plan, however it’s a good idea to ensure there are two ways out of the unit. The alternate way out can be a window that can be safely exited in an emergency.
Some property owners install bars on windows as a security measure. While this may seem appealing from a security point of view, it can prevent students from escaping in an emergency situation. Security bars on windows should be equipped with a quick-opening device on the inside so the bars can be removed quickly.
Many buildings offering lodging to students are older homes that may not have upgraded wiring. Outlets in bathrooms or within one metre of the kitchen sink should be the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) type. Consider the number and location of electrical outlets in the room or apartment. There should be enough outlets so that appliances such as lamps, computer equipment and stereos can be operated without the use of extension cords. If extension cords can’t be avoided, use multi-outlet power bars that are approved and provide surge protection and a circuit breaker. Make sure that electrical cords of any kind are not concealed under carpets or rugs where they can be easily damaged. Avoid overloaded circuits and octopus wiring.