GW Extends Fire Safety to Study Abroad

The university is working to install smoke detectors, other protections in study abroad program residences.

Fire Alarm
May 01, 2013

The George Washington University has launched an effort to examine and improve fire safety measures for its students studying abroad. The initiative is jointly led by Thomas Hayden, inspections supervisor in the Office of Safety and Security, and Robert Hallworth, director of the Office of Study Abroad.

“Many fire-related incidents can be prevented simply by installing smoke detection and alarm systems,” said Darrell Darnell, senior associate vice president for safety and security. “This fire safety prevention and protection program will increase our students’ awareness of fire prevention methods and provide them with an enhanced level of standardized protection while living and studying abroad. Tom and Rob have done a great job in developing this program and working with our partners abroad to implement it.” 

The initiative may be the first of its kind in the U.S. “We believe the George Washington University is only higher education institute in the nation to initiate a fire safety abroad program that extends beyond awareness training,” said Mr. Hayden.

In fall 2012, a fire occurred in a Paris building being utilized by GW students. While the students escaped unharmed, the university began to examine the issue and determine if safety improvements were necessary.

“Fire safety regulations and approaches to prevention differ greatly from country to country,” said Mr. Hallworth. “We are working closely together to bring attention to the important issue of fire safety for our students studying abroad.”

The university’s goals are multipronged: to address the immediate concerns for fire and life safety, to propose a system to capture baseline fire protection standards for more developed countries, and to ultimately develop an internal standard for what constitutes an acceptable level of fire protection for students studying abroad.

While George Washington students study in dozens of counties worldwide, the university is concentrating its initial fire safety efforts on the five cities where it administers programs: London, Paris, Madrid, Santiago and Buenos Aires. In London and Paris, students live in apartments or university housing. While English code meets U.S. standards and the university has confirmed residences in London are inspected regularly, in Paris GW has installed smoke alarms in five off-campus residences used regularly by the study abroad program.

In Madrid, GW students live with host families, and the university has installed 20 smoke detectors in host family homes. Plans are being finalized for Buenos Aires and Santiago to provide a level of protection similar to the European programs.

The university is also including fire safety information in pre-departure materials for students and working with the Jasmine Jahanshahi Fire Safety Foundation, which was founded in memory of a student who died in 2011 while studying abroad in Paris. Mr. Hayden and Mr. Hallworth recently co-presented with the foundation at a national conference in Chicago sponsored by the Forum on Education Abroad. 

“The session generated a great deal of discussion on how the study abroad community can raise awareness of this important topic,” said Mr. Hallworth.