The fires on Saturday, Apr. 3 shocked the campus community and Ann Arbor residents, resulting in a spike of concern over fire-safety issues in student housing. In response, one Ann Arbor resident has encouraged City Council to re-examine passing a proposed city ordinance that would ban couches on porches in an attempt to reduce fire hazards. While the intent to protect the city is noble, a ban essentially on porch couches isn’t the best way to combat fires. Students, landlords and the City Council should work together to create a system of education and responsibility to help prevent house fires.
Dubbed “suspicious,” the cause of the fires has yet to be determined. Ann Arbor police are treating the fires as arson, though the Ann Arbor Fire Department says there isn’t enough evidence to do so yet. One of the fires, thought to have begun with a porch couch that caught fire, injured two students and led to the death of another. The blaze prompted Ann Arbor resident C. Robert Snyder to urge the Ann Arbor City Council at its meeting last week to revisit an ordinance proposed by the Ann Arbor Fire Department in 2004 that would ban outdoor upholstered furniture in the city.
Certainly, the events of last week were tragic. And they have shown that fire-safety in the city isn’t up to par. But imposing an all-inclusive outdoor couch ban isn’t the best way to combat the problem. Porch couches can be a fire hazard — but they aren’t the major source of danger. There is much larger problem at hand: Student housing often isn’t fire-safe. And that’s the fault of both landlords and tenants. City Council should develop a method to educate young adults about fire safety, and ensure that landlords are keeping property up to code.
Many students are new to the responsibility of keeping a house fire-safe. To make sure that students know their responsibilities and how to stay safe, landlords and the City Council should educate students on fire-safety and city safety laws. This could be as simple as a city newsletter sent annually to student housing, or a short seminar offered by landlords or the city to teach students about fire-safety. This would give students the knowledge they need to keep their houses safe and not exacerbate any fire hazards.
But, more importantly, landlords are responsible — morally and legally — for keeping their property up to code. Many student houses are quite old and in poor condition. They require frequent attention to make sure there aren’t any serious hazards. Old wiring, ill-swept chimneys and flammable materials by house exits are all potentially dangerous. All student housing should have safe fire escapes. And, of course, all smoke detectors should be in working order. Landlords should advise tenants if they perceive a fire hazard, even if it’s not against the law.
The horrifying events from last weekend need to serve as a reminder of how important staying fire safe is. But fires don’t have a single cause. To prevent fires, tenants, landlords, and City Council should share responsibility for staying safe.