Fire prevention and safety


The goal of campus fire prevention program is to protect the lives and property of University of Wisconsin System students, faculty, staff and visitors. Many important aspects of fire prevention are addressed in building design, materials and construction, but this section covers fire prevention activities and factors that require attention during building occupancy and use. UW System campuses typically utilize people from different areas to meet their fire prevention goals: facilities maintenance staff to inspect, test and maintain equipment; safety specialists to provide guidance, and; local fire code inspection officers to inspect facilities. Finally, a successful fire prevention program relies on the efforts of faculty, staff and students to maintain a safe campus environment.

Crowd managers


NFPA 1: requires trained crowd managers for almost all assemblies (gatherings of 50 or more persons) at a ratio of 1 trained crowd manager per 250 people. There is commercially-available on-line training that can help you meet the requirement. A few examples of where this type of training is required on UW campuses (assuming NFPA 1 is used as the basis of your municipal fire code):  athletic events, performing arts events, and commencement ceremonies.

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Egress and exits

The means of egress is comprised of three major components:

  • Exit access: An exit access leads to an exit. Examples include corridors and aisles.
  • Exit: These are separated from all other spaces of a building by construction and provide a protected way of travel to the exit discharge. Examples include exit doors, protected stairways, and landings.
  • Exit discharge: This is the area between the end of the exit and a public way, such as a sidewalk open to outside air.

Common violations of egress and exit requirements are:


Fire Doors Blocked Open. A fire door is a specially constructed door that reduces the speed at which a fire spreads through an area. Fire doors are usually placed at entrances to stairwells, rooms with special uses (like equipment storage and mechanical rooms), and at intervals within some hallways. You can identify fire doors by looking at the hinge-edge of the door. A fire door will have a small metal plate or tag attached with information about the door. Standard doors do not have tags on the hinge edge.

State and Federal laws require that fire doors be kept closed (except where automatically controlled by the fire detection system). Blocking a fire door open with a wedge is illegal.

Blocked Exits and Escape RoutesEmergency exit doors and escape routes must be kept free and clear of materials that may impede evacuation.  Emergency exit doors may not be locked or blocked to prevent escape from the inside of a building. Supplies, equipment, furniture and even small boxes of papers must be kept off of the floor and out of the way in corridors.

Overviews of egress requirements

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Fire evacuation drills

Here are some quick links describing fire evacuation safety at a few UW System campuses.

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Fire safety reporting requirements (HEOA)

General description

In 2008, the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) amended the Clery Act and created additional safety- and security-related requirements for institutions. Specifically of interest to campus safety managers with fire safety duties, it added HEOA provisions on fire safety reporting requirements for institutions with on-campus student housing facilities.

References and resources

The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting (U.S. Department of Education): Chapters 11-14 cover the fire safety requirements of the regulations.

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Open burning

State law prohibits the open burning of most materials. Households are allowed to burn small dry quantities of a limited types of household materials when burned on the property where generated. Local ordinances may be more restrictive.

Additional Information:

  • Contact your regional DNR service center or check the DNR Open Burning website.
  • Does your municipality have an open burning ordinance? Check with your local clerk or fire chief.
  • The open burning regulations are in ch. NR 429 and s. NR 502.11, Wis. Adm. Code.

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Regulations, interpretations and standards

Unlike many other areas of employee safety, fire and life safety regulation is not primarily addressed by OSHA, but rather by the adoption and modification of consensus standards by local municipalities. In Wisconsin, enforcement is done by a mix of state and local entities.


Wisconsin regulation

The major references for Wisconsin fire prevention law and regulations are:

Chapter SPS 314 – Fire Prevention

NFPA 1The use, operation and maintenance of public buildings and places of employment must comply with the fire code adopted by the local municipality. Wisconsin has adopted the NFPA 1 Fire Code – 2009 as the model fire code, except as otherwise provided Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter SPS 314.

Local municipalities also have the option of adopting an alternate model code, the International Fire Code® − 2009.


UW System fire safety regulations — The University of Wisconsin System has fire safety regulations in addition to state and local regulation (paragraph (4) in UWS 18.10).



29 CFR 1910.38—Emergency Action Plans (General Industry); regulation and interpretations. Emergency planning, fire prevention plans and evacuation that would need to be done in the event of a serious fire are addressed here.

29 CFR 1910.157—Portable fire extinguishers. Regulation and interpretations.


Other OSHA Interpretations or FAQs


Consensus Standards

The two main consensus standards that provide model fire codes for US municipalities are:

  • NFPA 1 Fire Code – The 2009 version is currently adopted as the primary model fire prevention code in Wisconsin.
  • International Fire Code® − Click here for 2009 version, currently adopted as the alternate model fire prevention code in Wisconsin.

There are many other consensus fire prevention standards. The ones most frequently pertinent to university operations include:

  • NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers
  • NFPA 25 Standard for the Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems
  • NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code
  • NFPA 45, Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals
  • NFPA 51B, Standard for Fire Prevention During Welding, Cutting and Other Hot Work
  • NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code
  • NFPA 101, Life Safety Code
  • NFPA 325, Fire Hazard Properties of Flammable Liquids, Gases, and Volatile Solids

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Student housing fire safety

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — 2011 Fire Safety Training Podcast. These five video podcasts were made at the 2011 RA training at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Students wrote and acted in short skits which describe some common fire safety issues in dorms and how to avoid them.

Fire Protection Risk Reduction of Off-Campus Student Housing in College Park, Maryland. May 2003. A research paper with the purpose of determining if a risk reduction plan could improve fire protection and life safety in off-campus student housing.

Campus and Dorm Fires. NFPA webpage.

Structure Fires in Dormitories, Fraternities, Sororities and Barracks. Ben Evarts. August 2011. This would not address most off-campus housing, but does catch the off-campus Greek housing.

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Here are some examples to help you create or enhance your campus training material. In addition to these items, the topic page for portable fire extinguishers also links to training material.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee - with links to information and training slides.

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References for this webpage



This publication was prepared for environmental, health and safety staff at University of Wisconsin System campuses, to assist in finding resources and information for regulatory compliance. It is not intended to render legal advice.
(Read full legal disclaimer.)