Editor's note: Tonight on Weekend Nightly News, Lea Thompson reports on off-campus fires. She offers up these tips for parents with kids in college.
We spend all our kids' lives preparing them for college. We spend most of our lives coming up with the money to pay for it. But did you ever even think your child could die in an off-campus fire? Did you ever dream that cheap, hole-in-the-wall place your son is living in could go up like a tinderbox?
I am the parent of three college graduates and I am embarrassed to tell you that I just never thought enough about whether, when they moved off-campus, they were living in a firetrap. So what would I look for now that I have been educated by the experts?
-- Has the place your child is moving into ever been inspected? Has it ever had any citations? Knowing what I know today, I really would go to the trouble to visit City Hall and find out.
-- I wouldn't even check to find out if the smoke detectors are working. I would just go to the nearest hardware store and buy a new one. You want to put it on the ceiling right over every sleeping area, in the kitchen, and where kids are most likely going to hang out.
-- Does every bedroom have two ways to get out? It should. Just imagine your child having to jump from the third floor. At least get one of those metal ladders that folds and can go under the bed.
-- We saw a lot of windows that wouldn't open on our inspections. Many old buildings have windows that have been painted shut or painted so many times that it takes real effort to move them up and down.
-- Avoid halogen lamps and space heaters: They really are fire starters. And no 100 watt light bulbs. They really are too hot.
-- A lot of old houses have lousy electrical work and not enough plugs. Go to the basement and see what's down there. Electrical strips should not be daisy chained together. Also put your hand on the wall outlet; if it's hot or even warm, fewer electronics should be plugged in.
-- The No. 1 cause of campus fires is cooking. Inspect what your kids are going to cook on.
-- Fire inspectors hate couches on front porches. They are too often fire starters. Students drink, they smoke, they fall asleep, and hours later the smoldering couch becomes an inferno.
Want to know even more? There is a nonprofit organization that has a terrific Web site for you and your children. Check out The Center for Campus Fire Safety.
Also, check to see if The Princeton Review has ranked the college or university your daughter or son is interested in or attending. There are about 500 schools rated at PrincetonReview.com. Just know they are rated based on a self-reporting system and what you see there is only for on-campus housing.