Courtesy of the Ithaca Fire Department

A heat plate caused an accidental fire in a 10th-floor Ithaca College dorm last week, accentuating the danger of cooking and heating devices in apartments and dormitories.

January 28, 2018

Ithaca College Dorm Fire Highlights Danger of Heating and Cooking Devices

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Following a fire in an Ithaca College dormitory room last week, the Ithaca Fire Department is warning of the dangers of using cooking or heating devices, which are the leading causes of fires in the country.

No injuries resulted from the accidental dormitory room fire last Thursday on the 10th floor of Ithaca College’s East Tower, where 296 students live. An unidentified man accidentally plugged in a hot plate shortly before 9 a.m. that day, thinking he had plugged in a different device, Ithaca Fire Lt. Thomas Basher said.

The hot plate heated up without the resident’s knowledge and ignited combustible material that had been sitting on the plate, Basher said. Fire alarms and sprinklers activated, leading to a full evacuation of the building and a stream of students flowing into the parking lot with temperatures in the teens.

A freshman resident of the East Tower’s 11th floor, Samantha Rachmuth, told Ithaca College’s student newspaper, The Ithacan, that her “entire face was just smelling of fire” when she got to the 10th floor.

“It wasn’t a lot, but you could definitely smell it,” The Ithacan quoted Rachmuth as saying.

Basher said in a release that “A quick response from Firefighters kept the fire from spreading, and while there was damage, it could have been far worse.”

New York State’s Property Maintenance Code outlaws cooking “in any rooming unit or dormitory unit” and also says “a cooking facility or appliance shall not be permitted to be present in a rooming unit or dormitory unit.”

Residents should follow the recommendations of manufacturers, the policies of their dormitories or apartments and use common sense to keep themselves safe from accidental fires, Basher said.

Many campus policies and apartment leases prohibit items including electric fry pans, hot plates, hot pots, extension cords, multi-plug adapters, power strips, lava lamps, heat lamps, sun lamps, electric blankets, space heaters and more.

The Ithaca Fire Department provided the following tips for Cornell and Ithaca residents:

  • Be sure any appliances you buy or use are Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listed. Don’t use cheap knock offs!
  • Don’t use electric fry pans, hot plates, hot pots in your room.
  • Extension cords are meant for temporary use. Don’t use them as a permanent means for getting electricity somewhere.
  • Don’t use non-surge protected power strips, and don’t “daisy chain” one strip to another.
  • Any heating or heavy draw appliance should be plugged directly into an outlet, not a strip or extension cord.
  • Be cautious when using electric blankets, space heaters, halogen lamps, laval amps, etc. Always follow manufacturers’ recommendations and don’t drape anything combustible over or near them.

When in doubt, Basher said, “check with your landlord, Resident Assistant or electrician about the use of an electrical appliance.”

Basher said that a device can be new and UL listed but still dangerous if the wiring of the building is old and not designed to handle large electrical loads, putting residents at risk of causing a fire.