Fire Prevention

Ignition sources such as open flames, heaters, cooking, research activities, and other hazards must be controlled. Departments are encouraged to develop pre-fire emergency reference material, some of which may be located on-site and available to the fire department during a building emergency. Building floor plans with hazard information, emergency contacts, and hazardous material inventories can be very helpful in reducing damage and disruption. Building floor plans, provided by Facilities Services, are typically stored in a black cylinder located next to the building's main fire alarm panel. EH&S is available to assist in development of this material. Please contact Building and Fire Safety at (206)616.5530.


Employees are expected to keep their workplace free of accumulation of combustible waste and other materials that prevent access to exits and emergency equipment, or result in an unsafe work place. Find more information about laboratory housekeeping here.


Due to the amount of combustible materials and chemicals, housekeeping in laboratories is extremely important. Take pride in your lab. A clean and orderly lab is often a safe lab. Immediately dispose of unneeded packaging, chemicals, equipment, and furnishings to reduce hazards. Avoid retaining half full containers of the same material; use a material until it is gone and then dispose of the container before opening a new one. Properly store equipment, supplies, and tools so they are out of the way when not is use. Aisles must be clear of clutter that would hinder safe exiting. See additional "housekeeping tips" to help you maintain a clean lab.


Barbecue Safety

Barbeque grill use at the University is subject to few limitations, most of which are common sense approach restrictions to prevent cooking smoke from entering the buildings and potentially triggering a fire alarm, to prevent the heat of the grill from igniting portions of the building structure or surrounding vegetation, and providing means of extinguishing a fire that escapes the grill.

General Barbecue Fire Safety Precautions

EH&S prescribes the following guidelines to keep you and your group safe. All barbecues must be located at least 25 feet from any University structure. NO barbecues can be located on porches, balconies, or roof decks unless:

  • The barbeque can be located more than 25 feet from any doors, windows, or air inlet openings so that cooking smoke does not enter the buildings, and
  • The barbeque is not located under any part of a building or structure.

The barbeque must also be located to provide reasonable separation from any overhanging trees or plants.

A minimum 2A:40B:C rated fire extinguisher must be readily available and located within no more than 75 feet of travel from the cooking equipment. An extinguisher located in a nearby building within 75 feet of the barbeque and not located behind a locked door would be acceptable.  It is recommended that all cooking occur on a noncombustible concrete surface or a very green and plush lawn area. 

Additional Considerations for Charcoal and Wood Barbecues

  • Use only starter fluids that are approved for the fuel being used, such as commercially available charcoal lighter fluid.
  • Never add fluid to the fire once it has been started. Even a smoldering fire can cause the fluid to flash and follow the stream back to the can.
  • DISPOSE OF CHARCOAL SAFELY! Hot charcoal is a fire hazard and UW does not furnish metal cans. Bring a sturdy metal can to put hot coals in or enough water to soak them thoroughly if you cannot wait for them to burn out and cool before you remove them from campus. Do not put hot coals into a dumpster or other waste container unless all areas of the ash are cold to the touch.
  • Do not leave grills unattended with hot coals.

Additional Considerations for Propane Fueled Barbecues

  • Make sure the connecting hose is not crimped: check all connections, hoses, regulators, and grill connections for leaks.
  • Do not use if the hose is damaged, cut, or the connection to the tank or barbeque cannot be fully tightened.
  • If you smell gas, shut off the valve at the tank.
  • Keep the cylinder out of direct sunlight: the added heat increases the pressure inside the cylinder.
  • Ensure that propane tanks are protected from the heat of the cooking appliance.  Heat from the appliance can cause overpressure of the tank and rupture, resulting in an explosion.
  • Always leave the cylinder in an upright position.  Propane tanks contain both liquid and gas and laying the tank down can introduce liquid propane into the regulator and hoses.  Cylinder regulators are not designed to work with liquid propane and laying the cylinder down can cause a serious liquid leak.
  • Never store propane cylinders inside a building, basement, or garage: a minor leak in the cylinder can cause a major explosion.

Open fires, campfires and bonfires are not allowed on the UW campus.

If you have any questions about barbecue fire safety, please contact an EH&S fire safety professional at (206) 616-5530.


Controlling Ignition Sources

According to NFPA statistics, approximately 40% of all nonresidential structure fires are caused by electrical distribution, open flame, heating, and other equipment. The last two major UW lab fires were started by unattended equipment. Please use good judgment in leaving processes or experiments unattended.

Fire at Parrington Hall caused by an over-used extension cord draped over this couch.Temporary heating appliances and open flames must not be left unattended when in use.

Distillation and other separation operations involving flammable and combustible liquids must be protected from ignition sources and performed in fume hoods or other suitable environments.

Extension cords may not be used in place of permanent wiring. A commercial quality multiple outlet strip (Surge Suppressor), with a built-in circuit breaker, plugged directly into a wall receptacle is acceptable where existing service is inadequate. Do not connect extension cords or power strips together (no "daisy-chaining"). Also, keep electrical cords in good condition. Replace or take out of service any equipment with frayed or damaged cords.


Electrical Safety

For information and resources on the hazards of electricity and how to safely use electrical devices, see

Holiday Decorations Fire Prevention

Tree Safety

  • The use of artificial trees and decorations is advised
  • Artificial trees may be decorated with miniature Underwriters Laboratories-listed low heat producing electric lights
  • Electric lights are not permitted on metallic trees
  • The use of live or natural cut Christmas trees is discouraged in University buildings - they dry out quickly and fire retardant treatment may interfere with the tree's ability to draw water
  • If a natural cut tree is to be used in a University building, the following criteria must be adhered to:
    • Tree stands for natural cut trees must meet Seattle Fire Code (Seattle Fire Department) water capacity requirements
    • Trees are checked daily for dryness and water added at least daily
    • Natural cut trees cannot be decorated with electric lights in University buildings
    • Open flames and candles cannot be used as decorations
    • Natural cut trees, wreaths and garlands must be removed as soon as possible after the holiday observance

Other Decorations Safety Criteria at UW

  • All decorations or displays such as wreaths and garlands other than natural cut trees must be flameproof or fire retardant
  • Decorations must not obstruct sprinkler systems, access to fire extinguishers, fire alarm pull stations or block the minimum width of exit ways
  • All electrical cords and lights must carry the label of Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
  • Electrical cords and lights must be carefully inspected before use for cracks, areas of wear, or broken, exposed or frayed wires
  • Do not link more than three light strands unless the directions indicate it is safe - connect strings to an extension cord before plugging into the outlet
  • Decorative lighting must be turned off when the premises are unoccupied


Laboratory Doors

Most University laboratories are accessed from fire rated corridors. Doors must be kept closed for fire safety, security and to maintain appropriate air balance within the laboratory room or suite. Wedging a lab door open or blocking an exit pose significant fire safety hazards and are violations of the Fire Code.


Placement of Decorations

Decorations must not disguise, cover, or interfere with any safety device or equipment, including fire safety equipment such as fire extinguishers, exit signs, sprinkler heads and piping, and fire alarm pull stations. They must not intrude into or block the minimum width of exit ways.


Refrigerators and Freezers

Flammable liquids may only be stored or cooled in refrigerators or freezers that are suitable, listed, and signed for such use. Flammable liquids placed in an ordinary refrigerator or freezer may result in an explosion. For more information click here.

UW Purchasing notifies EH&S of new freezer and refrigerator procurements. This prompts EH&S to provide a memorandum outlining information outlined herein and warning stickers to departments. Stickers may also be requested by emailing EH&S at The following three warning signs are available through EH&S:

Not explosion proof sticke
No food or drink sticker  Only food and drink sticker

Guidelines for Placing and Labeling Refrigerators and Freezers:

  1. The unit should be located in the laboratory or room as soon as possible so that it does not impair emergency exiting. The unit may not be located in a corridor, hallway, or other exit way unless specifically approved by Environmental Health and Safety.

  2. The unit must be plugged directly into a building electrical receptacle. Use of an electrical extension cord may present a fire risk and is a violation of the fire code.
  3. sticker placement on refrigerator
  4. Flammable liquids should not be stored or cooled in the unit unless it is specifically designed for this purpose; doing so may result in an explosion. If this unit is associated with research or located in or near a laboratory and not UL listed for flammable liquids, please affix the enclosed sticker "CAUTION Not Explosion Proof" to the unitís door (pictured left).

  5. If the unit is located in a research facility, affix only the appropriate food and drink sticker on the unit, but not both stickers. Consumable food and drink may not be stored in a unit that is used for research. Similarly research materials may not be stored in units dedicated to consumable food and drink. Units for food and drink may not be placed in laboratories, although they may be placed in adjacent offices. Units in food service facilities, break rooms, and other non-research areas, need not be labeled with a food and drink sticker.


Space Heaters

See Building Heat and Portable Space Heaters for more information regarding policies about heater use on campus and other options available.


"An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure" . Henry de Bracton, 1240