HOME FIRE SAFETY off-Grounds - Student Living

Stop and Knock

Following a significant fire which occurred in off-Grounds housing in January 2013, the University’s Fire Safety office along with Charlottesville’s Fire Department and Neighborhood Development Services Department began the annual "Stop and Knock" program. The fire, which began in the early morning hours in upholstered furniture on the porch of a house on Wertland Street, displaced 13 students and caused major damage to their belongings, the house and several parked cars – fortunately, there were no injuries.

"Stop and Knock" involves University Fire Safety Officers, City firefighters and property maintenance inspectors going door to door through off-Grounds areas with high concentrations of student residents, delivering fire safety information and useful tips, property maintenance issues and other general safety messages.

"Stop and Knock" usually occurs over 2 or 3 evenings in the Autumn, and covers several City neighborhoods.

See and hear the "Stop and Knock" team in action in the videos and podcast below.

Video (NBC 29): wmv | mp4

Video (CBS 19): wmv | mp4

Podcast (WINA): wav | mp3

Property Maintenance

Beginning in February 2005, the University of Virginia has funded the employment of a property maintenance inspector by the City of Charlottesville’s Neighborhood Development department. This inspector is responsible for enforcing the building maintenance requirements of both City code as well as the Virginia Statewide Building Code and enhancing housing safety, with a focus on off-Grounds University student housing (including fraternities and sororities). Students are also encouraged to request inspections of indoor areas of student housing.

The inspector works with staff from the University’s Fire Safety office and the City Fire Marshal’s office to promote safety through inspections and educational opportunities such as the "Stop and Knock" program and Student Council’s Safety Fair. Coordination of activities is achieved through regular meetings and reporting. The agreement between the University and the City is currently in effect through June 2022, with renewal options every three years.

Helpful Tips and Information

NFPA Public Education

  • Cooking
    • Never leave the kitchen when frying, grilling or boiling food.
    • Never leave anything near a cooking operation that will catch fire. Examples: dishtowel, pot rags, paper products, etc.
    • Never leave a trash can located near a stove or cooking station.
    • Always keep your cooking area clean and uncluttered.
    • Always keep pan and pot handles turned away from you to avoid turning over hot cooking items that may burn you or catch areas near the stove on fire.
    • If you have a fire extinguisher do not place it near the stove. Place away from the cooking area preferably in your path of egress (escape).
    • Never use water on a grease fire. Water will cause the fire to flare up. Place a lid on the item and if possible turn the stove off. If you are unable to safely place a lid on the fire exit the facility and call 911.
    • If your micro wave oven catches fire do not open the door. If possible unplug the oven and call 911.
  • General Tips
    • Identify all of your exits and ways out of your home.
    • Maintain clear exits.
    • Keep emergency contact information for all of your roommates/occupants.
    • Smoke Alarms
      • Smoke alarms are required in all dwellings and rooming houses in Charlottesville, and should be installed in conformance with the Statewide Building Code. Owners of rental or leased dwelling units are required to furnish a certificate annually that required detectors are present, have been inspected and are in good working order. Tenants are responsible for interim testing, repair and maintenance unless they notify the owner in writing that service, repair or replacement is necessary.
      • Smoke alarms should be installed inside every sleeping room, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
      • Smoke alarms should be tested monthly and cleaned according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Smoke alarms should be replaced every 10 years. For help obtaining smoke alarms, or questions about their installation, use or maintenance, contact the Charlottesville Fire Department at 434-970-4325 or visit their web page.
    • Be aware of overnight guests. Once outside in your assembly area provide emergency personnel with all pertinent information. If one of your roommates has not made it out of the home, provide information as to which room they and guests are located.
    • Always clean out dryer lint trap/vent after each use. Do not let lint build up. Lint build up reduces the efficiency of the dryer and INCREASES the chances of a fire.
    • Always use flameless candles.
    • Always use the recommended wattage light bulbs. Using a higher wattage bulb increases the chances for a fire.
    • Always turn off and unplug irons, curling irons, blow dryers, etc. when not in use.
    • Never cover lamps with flammable material such as scarfs, towels, etc. Never use a lamp as a hat rack or hanger for your clothes.
    • Never leave your cell phone, laptop, etc. on bedding, upholstered furniture, etc. while charging.
    • Be aware of the fire danger of sofas/upholstered furniture on porches. These types of furniture items are easily ignited by smoking material, fireworks, etc. Fires on porches will block your egress, spread quickly to the rest of the house and are often not detected until the fire has spread to living/sleeping areas of your home.
  • Evacuation Tips
    • Walk through your home and identify all possible exits. Develop a systems to keep all of your exits clear.
    • Pick a safe assembly location. If possible the location should be in a well-lit area (under a street light), out of the way of responding emergency vehicles and far enough away to keep you safe from flames, heat, etc.
    • Develop a plan and make sure all occupants understand the plan. Review the plan every 6 months and whenever a new roommate moves into your home.
    • Practice your plan.
    • Make sure your outside street address in clearly visible. Make sure each occupant is aware of the address.
    • If you know what caused the alarm or fire, provide that information to emergency responders. Know how many of your roommates/guests are staying in the home each night. If one of your roommates/overnight guests are not able to get out be sure to provide their room location to emergency personnel. This information will shorten the amount of time responders will have to search for individuals that may be trapped.
    • During a fire situation, feel the door with the back of your hand before opening. If the door is cool open slowly and keep low. Exit the building. If the door is hot to the touch, do not open it. If possible leave via another exit (door, lower level window).
    • If you are unable to leave the room place towels, clothing, etc. around the door to keep smoke from entering the room. Signal for help from a window. If possible call 911 and inform emergency responders that you are trapped. Provide as much information as possible. “Example – 2nd floor, 3rd room on the right, number of people trapped in the room”. Breathe through a towel or clothing to keep smoke out of your airway. Stay low as smoke tends to rise. Bang on the floor or wall to assist emergency responder’s efforts to locate you in a smoke filled environment.

Student House Fire - Wertland Street

At 5:00 a.m. on January 21, 2013 a major house fire occurred in a popular residential area mainly inhabited by UVA students. The fire occurred on the front porch of a house on Wertland Street, home to 13 UVA students, 11 which were home and asleep at the time of the fire. Sanitation workers on their morning rounds spotted the flames. Immediately they start yelling and throwing rocks at the windows to wake everyone. Indoors, groggy students wake up and start scrambling to get out, only to find flames from a burning couch blocking the front door. The students race to the only other exit – in the back, through a bedroom, where the door is closed, but fortunately not locked. In that bedroom, the students struggle to wake up the sleeping occupant: yelling, shaking him, and pulling him out. Finally outside, they watch as their house, belongings, and several cars are destroyed. In a daze, they recognize they were lucky: this episode could have had a very different and tragic ending.

Below you can watch video of the actual fire and listen to the 911-call. The video also contains inerviews of students describing what it was like to exit a burning house, and an interview with the Deputy Fire Chief describing the harrowing event.

Wertland Street, UVA Student House Fire.

Video (UVA): wmv | mp4

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