University Safety and Assurances

Fire Safety: General Information


Activating Fire Alarm and Evacuating

Emergency Response to Fire Occurrence

It is important to determine in advance what your response will be in the event of a fire occurrence on campus. The basic steps you will follow are:

  • Step 1: Activate Alarm
  • Step 2: Dial 9-911 (or from a cell phone Dial 229-9911)
  • Step 3: Evacuate the Building

Fire Alarm Procedures

The fire alarm means: "EVACUATE!" Even if you are in the middle of a class it is time to leave.

  • Alert persons in area of fire and direct them away from danger.
  • Close door(s) to confine fire.
  • Activate the fire alarm.
  • Evacuate through nearest safe exit.
  • Do not use elevators.
  • Move calmly to the designated Evacuation Assembly Area" for your building.
  • Keep streets, fire-lanes, hydrant areas and walkways clear for emergency vehicles and personnel.
  • Call the University Police from a safe location. Dial 9-911 from any campus hard-wired phone or 229-9911 from a cell phone.
  • Do not re-enter until the Fire Department or University Police announce "All Clear."

Instructions for Anyone Confined by Smoke or Fire

If you notice an increase in room temperature or a strong smell of smoke in your area:

  1. CAREFULLY FEEL THE DOOR USING THE BACK OF YOUR HAND. If the door is hot, do not attempt to open it. If you feel no heat, then;
  2. PARTIALLY OPEN THE DOOR WHILE STANDING BEHIND IT FOR PROTECTION. Survey the existing conditions before exiting, if your passage is blocked, then;
  3. Close the door and use any available material (towels, shirt, blouse, etc.) to seal threshold openings. If a water source is available, soak materials before packing them into place. If you are in an older building equipped with transoms above the doors, make certain that these are closed.
  4. Use the room phone to contact University Police (x9911) to let them know your exact location. If no telephone is available, signal your location by waving a cloth or similar material from the window.
  5. ONLY IF SMOKE BEGINS TO ENTER YOUR AREA, should you partially open a window and stay near it, keeping low and breathing the fresher air from outside.
  6. If you are in a building that does not have windows that can be opened and smoke begins to enter, it may become necessary to break a window to obtain needed oxygen. This must be done only as a last resort and with extreme care, by keeping out of the direct path formed between the window to be broken and the doorway or opening through which smoke is entering. The glass pane must be broken low, to provide easy access to outside air. This can be done by throwing a heavy object at the lower pane, while standing out of the direct path formed between the window and doorway or opening.

Elements of a Fire

For many years the concept of fire was symbolized by the Triangle of Combustion and represented, fuel, heat, and oxygen:

  • Fuel -- For a fire to start there must be something to burn. The physical state of the fuel may be gases (natural gas, propane, butane, hydrogen, etc.); liquids (gasoline, kerosene, turpentine, alcohol, paint, varnish, lacquer, etc.) or solid (coal, wood, paper, cloth, grease, etc.)
  • Heat -- For a fire to start there must be a source of ignition, usually heat or a spark. Heat sources include: open flame, hot surfaces, sparks and arcs, friction-chemical action, electrical energy and compression of gases
  • Oxygen -- A source of oxygen is needed. Approximately 16% is required. Normal air contains 21% oxygen. Some fuels contain enough oxygen within their make-up to support burning.
Fire Tetrahedron

Further fire research determined that a fourth element, a chemical chain reaction, was a necessary component of fire. The fire triangle was changed to a "Fire Tetrahedron" to reflect this fourth element.

The four elements are:

  • Oxygen to sustain combustion
  • Sufficient heat to raise the material to its ignition temperature
  • Fuel or combustible material, and subsequently
  • An Exothermic Chemical Chain Reaction in the material.

Emergency (SAFE) Phones

SAFE Phone

UWM maintains an advanced system for the reporting of any problems to the University Police. The heart of the system is a dedicated 911 emergency telephone computer with enhanced location determination capabilities.

There are four types of phones on campus, all connected to this system:

  • All office and laboratory phones which are part of the campus Centrex system (229- exchange) are connected to the emergency telephone system. One must dial 9-911 from these phones to gain access to the emergency system.
  • All public pay phones in campus buildings and on campus properties are connected to the 911 system. No coin is required when dialing 911.
  • A network of outdoor emergency S.A.F.E. phones covers the campus. These phones, which are found primarily along walkways, are located in yellow boxes which are topped by blue lights. Most phone boxes are mounted on black poles which are labeled "Emergency." Other phone boxes are located on buildings, in parking lots and on other structures at locations where they will be most visible.

    The location of all the outdoor emergency phones can be found on this campus map.

  • To use the Emergency S.A.F.E. phone, open the door to the box and hold the red button until the call is answered. This will activate the 911 system, which will indicate the phone's location at the campus police station.
  • The caller can then talk to the police dispatcher. Please remain on the phone until the dispatcher has recorded all of the pertinent information including the nature of the emergency, your name, your location, and any other relevant information.

How to Request Assistance When Calling from a Cell Phone

  • Dial 229-9911. This will connect you with the UWM Police Department Dispatcher.
  • Provide information on the exact location (including cross streets, mileposts or landmarks) and the nature of the emergency
  • Indicate whether police, fire or medical assistance is needed
  • UWM University Police will arrive in addition to other emergency responders
Requesting Emergency Assistance from Cellphone
Requesting Assistance from Cell Phone

ElevatorsIn case of fire use stairwell fire exits, do not use elevators

When a fire alarm is sounded, elevators are programmed to go to the first floor of the building and remain locked out of normal service prevent building occupants from using the elevator during a fire. In the event of a fire or other emergency condition, the elevator can only be operated by trained firefighters.

Under no circumstances should anyone, other than a trained and experienced elevator technician attempt to perform repairs to an elevator or its associated equipment, or attempt to rescue any entrapped passenger(s) unless a bona fide emergency, such as a risk to life or a fire, exists.

Under certain rare circumstances, when it is believed that a serious life/safety hazard exists, police or fire department personnel may access elevator shafts or cars using the proper procedures as outlined in ASME A17.4, "Emergency Evacuation of Passengers from Elevators".

Most campus elevators are equipped with emergency phones for the purpose of summoning aid for those stranded in a stalled elevator. Please identify yourself and the number from which you are calling. Identify the emergency, including type, location, injuries, and/or other known details to determine assistance needed. If possible, stay on the line until the dispatcher tells you that you can hang up.

The University Police non-emergency phone numbers are 229-4627.

Fire Alarms

All university buildings are equipped with fire alarms that sound an audible tone. Some buildings have strobe flashers for the hearing impaired.

According to UWS Chapter 18, Conduct on University Lands, section (g):

"No person may remain in any university facility or on university lands when an audible or visual fire alarm has been activated or upon being notified by fire fighting, law enforcement or security personnel to evacuate."

Most campus building alarm systems are directly monitored by the university police. To ensure proper notification, however, you are also encouraged to call them via telephone. In an emergency situation, dial 9-911 from a campus phone or 229-9911 from a cell phone. Buildings that are not directly monitored by the police are the Alumni House, Purin Hall, Zelazo Center and the University Services Building. Therefore, from these buildings you must dial 9-911 from a campus phone or 229-9911 from a cell phone (this will connect you with the University Police Dispatcher). You may also dial 911 from a campus coin phone, or use an outdoor emergency phone to report an incident to the University Police.

Fire Preparedness

Emergency Evacuation Map


  • Learn where emergency exits are located. All designated exits are clearly marked.
  • Review the Emergency Evacuation Floor Plans for your building in advance of an emergency so that you are familiar with alternate routes in the event that your normal exit route is blocked by fire or smoke.
  • Participate in fire drills. Fire drills are conducted to familiarize you with the sound of your building's fire alarm, the emergency exits which you may not normally use, and the procedures for calling the UWM Police.
  • In case of fire evacuate through the nearest, safe stairwell. Do not use elevators.

If You Are Disabled:

  • If you are disabled you should learn about fire safety, plan ahead for fire emergencies, and be aware of your own capabilities and limitations. Look for "areas of refuge", like stair enclosures or the other side of corridor fire doors. Most elevators are designed to stop operating when the alarm is sounding and are not safe during a fire. Sometimes it may be safer to stay in your room. Contact the Student Accessibility Center (x6287; voice or TTY) or see our webpage on Emergency Evacuation of People with Disabilities for additional information.

Report Fire-Related Crimes to the Police:

  • There is a reward for information leading the arrest of an arsonist. Causing a false alarm is a crime punishable by a fine of $5,000 and 5 years imprisonment. Vandalism of fire extinguishers, exit signs, and fire alarms robs you of your fire protection. Any person found responsible for these crimes will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Help Eliminate Fire Hazards

Electrical Abuse:

  • Electrical hazards represent a serious, widespread occupational danger; practically all members of the workforce are exposed to electrical energy during the performance of their daily duties. It is important that you be aware of the potential for fire resulting from electrical hazards.
  • Use of electrical "octopuses" to obtain more outlets can result in overloaded circuits and fire. Use only 15 amp fused power strips. Replace damaged wires and be sure to match your appliance power requirements to the circuit power.
  • Never remove the grounding post from a three-prong plug.
  • Hotplates, coffee makers, irons, space heaters, etc. should never be left unattended. They should be unplugged after use and not stored until they are cool enough to touch. Keep heaters away from curtains and furniture.
  • Match the size of an extension cord to the appliance power cord to prevent cord overheating. Extension cords are not intended for "permanent" installations. Wherever possible, appliances shall be connected to permanently wired receptacles.
  • A three-foot clearance is required in front of all circuit breaker panels. Storage of combustibles in mechanical/electrical service closets is prohibited.

See also Electrical Safety in the Officepdf format, Adobe Acrobat Required for information relating to eliminating electrical hazards in the office environment.

Obstacles: Blocked Exit

Storage of bicycles, chairs, desks, file cabinets, boxes and other items is prohibited in all exit ways. Storage is prohibited in all exits and aisles leading to exits. This includes primary hallways and all stairwells.

Exits must remain unobstructed and accessible at all times. Blocked exits have caused "chain reaction" pile-ups of fallen people during emergencies. Obstructed stairwells or exits can seriously hinder your escape effort during an emergency.

Historically, blocked exits are the cause of most fire-related deaths in commercial buildings.

Open Flames:

  • Open flames such as Bunsen burners, barbecue grills, torches, etc. shall never be left unattended. Extinguish all open flames, even if left for a very short time.


  • Never prop open fire doors with wedges or other objects. The very purpose of these doors is to prevent smoke and heat from traveling up stairwells and along corridors.

Flammable Liquids and Gases:

  • Storage of flammable liquids in laboratories, shops, and classrooms is limited to specific quantities and approved containers, cabinets or vaults.
  • Know what the maximum permissible quantity of flammable liquids is for your laboratory area and never exceed this amount. Reference your department's Laboratory Safety Plan for additional information.

Other Resources