The Fire Safety Policy was developed to ensure the health and safety of faculty, staff, students, and visitors while also ensuring compliance with appropriate regulatory agencies. This Policy utilizes regulatory compliance objectives, as well as, industry best practices, to establish fire prevention guidelines across the campus. The intent of this Policy is to ensure activities that create a fire risk or may contribute to conditions that favor the spread of fire are identified and mitigated.

The following Fire Safety Policy applies to all faculty, other academic appointees, Postdoctoral Researchers, staff, students, and visitors on University premises.

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Authority and Responsibility

All University of Chicago Units are responsible for adhering to the following Policy and ensuring employees complete Fire Safety and Evacuation training.

Environmental Health and Safety is responsible for:

  • Developing the Fire Safety Policy;
  • Conducting annual facility audits as outlined in the Fire and General Safety Review Program;
  • Reviewing the Policy on an annual basis to ensure compliance; and
  • Developing, conducting, and reviewing Fire Safety and Evacuation training.

Campus and Student Life is responsible for:

  • Informing occupants living in student housing of fire and evacuation safety;
  • Conducting routine fire drills to assist students in understanding safe evacuation procedures;
  • Informing occupants living in student housing of items that are prohibited; and
  • Conducting routine inspections of living spaces to determine the presence of prohibited items.

All University Units are responsible for:

  • Ensuring that employees understand and adhere to this Policy;
  • Following purchasing recommendations outlined in this Policy;
  • Minimizing the risk of fire as a result of activities and operations under their control;
  • Removing items from service that do not conform to this Policy; and
  • Contacting Environmental Health and Safety with questions related to equipment purchasing recommendations or other aspects of this Policy.

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Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

All equipment and appliances identified in this policy shall be designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark [common marks include Underwriters Laboratories (UL)]. Other nationally recognized testing laboratories may also certify products.

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Small Electrical Appliances and Equipment

A small appliance is a portable or semi-portable machine, generally used on table-tops, counter-tops, or other platforms, to accomplish a household task. Examples include but are not limited to the following:

  • Hot plates;
  • Microwave ovens;
  • Toaster ovens;
  • Toasters;
  • Fans;
  • Lamps
  • Electric kettles;
  • Coffeemakers; and
  • Humidifiers.

All appliances allowed for use and utilized in office breakrooms or kitchenettes shall carry a commercial use listing unless utilized in a private residential property.  Please refer to University College Housing for restrictions in residence halls.

Toaster ovens, toasters, and hot plates are prohibited in University offices, workstations, breakrooms, or kitchenettes. These devices are only allowed in UChicago Dining areas which includes residential dining commons, cafes, and retail locations on campus having the appropriate fire protection.

Personal coffee makers (four cups or less) that do not incorporate a hot plate may be used in private offices or workstations (cubicles).

Appliances shall be plugged directly into an outlet and be designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark. If more than two appliances with a cumulative wattage of more than 1,500 watts are plugged into a single wall outlet, a power strip designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark with a built-in circuit breaker shall be used. Both the cord and plug shall be undamaged (i.e., cord not taped or covered, plug intact and without conductors showing, no cracks or breaks in cord or plug).

Appliances shall be grounded “three prong” or be clearly labeled as “double insulated”.  The case or body of the item cannot be cracked, chipped, broken, and there shall be no exposed metal parts or electrical shock hazards.

All appliances shall be located in an appropriate place for use without causing a tripping hazard or obstructing egress pathways or emergency safety devices.

Countertop appliances should be unplugged when not in use.

Any equipment to be placed in a hazardous area such as a laboratory shall be designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark and labeled intrinsically safe (e.g., explosion proof refrigerators).

Permanently installed electrical equipment shall be installed using permanent wiring. Electrical cord treadles shall be used whenever wiring crosses a “path of travel” or walkway.

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Paper Shredders

Paper shredders can pose a fire hazard if paper jams occur while operating the unit which leads to overheating of the machine.  All paper shredders shall be equipped with thermal protection and an automatic shut-off.  Shredder waste paper bins shall be emptied regularly to ensure no excessive amounts of shredded paper accumulate.

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Space Heaters

Space heaters with electrical heating elements that glow red-hot and fuel powered (e.g., kerosene, propane) are prohibited from University owned buildings.

Electric space heaters with water/oil fluid enclosed heating elements or ceramic covered heating elements which provide radiant heat are allowed for use in University owned buildings.

The use of electric space heaters as a temporary measure is permitted, if the following guidelines are followed:

  • Space heaters cannot be operated within three feet of combustible materials including waste baskets, furniture, coat racks, or draperies;
  • Items with an ignition source, including space heaters, shall not be placed in areas where flammable or explosive vapors may be potentially found;
  • Space heaters shall not exceed 110 volts and shall not be rated for more than 1,500 watts; 1,500 watt space heaters shall be plugged into an electrical outlet that is rated for 20 amps or greater;
  • Space heaters shall be designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark;
  • Space heaters shall have a thermostat that shuts off when a certain temperature is reached which means heaters without thermostats (i.e., simple “on/off” or “high/low”) are not permitted;
  • Space heaters shall have functional tip over protection (i.e., space heater shall turn off automatically if tipped over);
  • Space heaters shall have overheat protection (i.e., space heater will automatically shut the unit off if there is an overheat situation);
  • Space heater may only be located on the floor.  It is prohibited to place the space heater on file cabinets, desks, or tables;
  • Space heaters shall not be located and operated under desk; as an alternative to warming once’s feet, an approved listed heated footrest is recommended;
  • Space heaters shall plug directly into an electrical outlet. It is prohibited to plug the space heater into an extension cord or power strip;
  • Space heaters shall not be located in high traffic areas or used in dusty environments (e.g., workshops);
  • Space heaters shall always be turned off and unplugged when not in use; and
  • Space heaters shall not be left running unattended.

Environmental Health and Safety reserves the right to inspect and declare any space heater “unapproved.”

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Extension Cords and Power Strips

Extension cords and power strips shall be inspected for damage to the outer insulation prior to use. If damage extends beyond the outer layer of cord (i.e., if the conductor is exposed), then the extension cord shall be discarded.

Extension cords and power strips shall be plugged into a wall outlet and may not be plugged into another extension cord or power strip. Extension cords may never be used in place of permanent wiring and may only be used for a temporary period of up to 90 days.  Extension cords shall be unplugged when not in use.

Extension cords and power strips that have a ground pin may only be plugged into grounded outlets. Devices that have a ground pin may only be plugged into extension cords and power strips that accept ground pins. Do not remove the ground pin from the plug of the device or the extension cord or power strip.

Extension cords and power strips shall be designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark and used within the manufacturer’s guidelines. Industrial/commercial grade equipment, power tools, and other high-current devices may not be plugged into power strips or extension cords unless they are designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark for industrial/commercial use (the manufacturer’s guidelines will specify the rating of the power strip). The use of household extension cords (two prong) and non-multi-plug adapters (e.g., one-to-three plug adapter) are not permitted.

Never run cords under doors, rugs, or carpeting; through walls; or above lay-in ceiling tile.

Where electrical vehicles are approved for charging, only cables provided by the equipment manufacturer for that vehicle, or the charging station may be used.

Please refer to the Electrical Safety Policy for an in-depth description on the safe use of extension cords.

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Unattended Heating Operations

Unattended operation of an appliance which contains a heating element is strictly prohibited on University premises. All heating operations shall only be conducted when the device is under direct supervision.

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There are numerous dangers associated with the possession and use of E-Devices. E- Devices include self-balancing motorized scooters commonly known as hoverboards, E-Bikes, E-Skate and Longboards, and Self-balancing motorized Scooters. These dangers include, without limitation, leaking fluid, excessive heat, sparking, smoke, and fire.

In response to these safety concerns, the storage or charging, of E-Devices on University property (i.e., University owned or controlled buildings, facilities, businesses, and other structures, including residence halls and faculty/staff/graduate housing) is prohibited.

This policy does not apply to wheelchairs, ADA-related mobility aids, laptops, or cellular phones. Also excluded from this policy are vehicles and devices owned by the University, such as Segways, motorized carts, and other equipment that are used by staff in the performance of their duties.

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Storage in Corridors

Corridors, exits stairs, and fire escapes are typically the primary escape routes in an emergency. Storage in corridors, exits, stairs, and fire escapes is strictly prohibited in all buildings on University premises. This includes, but is not limited to temporary, short-term or long-term storage or spill over from offices, laboratories, classrooms, or from shipping and receiving areas. No storage is allowed in any corridor with the exception of recessed vestibule areas and no storage is allowed in or under any stairwell. Unit deans and building managers will be informed when faculty and staff are found violating prohibited storage paths.

Fire protection system controls, and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system controls shall be accessible to the Fire Department therefore prohibiting excessive storage in mechanical rooms. University Policy also dictates that there is to be no storage of any material inside electrical rooms.  All combustible storage is prohibited in mechanical, electrical rooms, and IT Server rooms unless approved by Environmental Health and Safety.

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Fire Doors and Emergency Exits

Fire doors with a fire–resistance rating is used to reduce the spread of fire and smoke between sections of floors, enabling the safe evacuation of campus buildings. Many campus buildings contain self-closing fire doors which are maintained in an open position and close automatically during fire alarms. It is prohibited, at any time, to block, prop, or wedge a fire door in the open position, or prevent the self-closing of a fire door.  Designated emergency exit doors are to be readily opened from the inside at all times, and shall not be, at any time, locked, chained, blocked, or barred to prevent exiting.

Please refer to the High Rise Buildings Policy for detailed information on stairwell re-entry requirements in high rise buildings on campus.

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Use of Open Flame Devices

The use of open flame devices inside University owned buildings shall be prohibited; unless the area is designated as such (e.g., research laboratory, metal shop, kitchen).  No employee of the University, contractor hired by the University, or subcontractor hired by the contractor shall perform any hot work unless a hot work permit is obtained. Hot work is defined as any temporary operation involving open flame or producing heat/sparks. Members of the University who wish to use open flame devices in non-designated areas shall contact Environmental Health and Safety 48-hours prior to any open flame activity to request a Hot Work Authorization Permit.

Please refer to the Hot Work Policy for a detailed description of the hot work authorization process.

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Decoration Restrictions

Decorations of all types shall be either non-combustible or adequately treated to render them fire resistant.  Decorations are allowed 14 calendar days before the holiday. All decorations are expected to be removed by no later than seven calendar days after the holiday. Artificial wrapped presents kept on the floor are limited to lobby areas.  Keep wrapping paper on artwork to a minimum (i.e., less than 10% of the wall). Full-size trees are limited to lobby areas. The use of trees or wreaths shall be restricted to artificial types designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark indicating satisfactory fire resistance. No live or cut trees or wreaths are allowed. Do not use strings of lights on metal trees.

Use only electric, designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark battery operated candles or tabletop decorations (e.g., trees, menorahs, figures). Full-size animated characters that require a plug are not allowed.

Streamers, garlands, lights, and other decorations shall not run along or across halls, obstruct or restrict aisles, passageways, or corridors; be hung from smoke detectors or sprinkler heads or obstruct exits signs, fire extinguishers or other fire equipment. Light strands shall be designated as approved with a nationally recognized testing laboratory mark and not be excessive. Decorations may not be attached to doors, walls, or painted surfaces by any methods which would damage the surface or leave behind adhesive residue (i.e., low adhesive masking tape is preferred).

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Grilling and Storage of Liquid Propane Tanks

The use of charcoal or liquefied petroleum gas (propane) fueled grills inside any University owned building is expressly prohibited. Open flame grilling may only occur outside and at least 75 feet away from any structure, air intake, or combustible material (e.g., trees, bushes, cars, garbage cans). All operators of charcoal or propane fueled grills on University premises shall have completed Fire and Emergency Evacuation training.

Per City of Chicago Municipal Code requirements, storage of liquefied petroleum gas cylinders is prohibited in University owned buildings.

During construction or renovation projects, containers of liquefied petroleum gas may be used in multiple-dwelling units, business units, and mercantile units in connection with repair and renovation operations only under the following conditions:

  • The maximum water capacity of individual containers shall be 50 pounds (20 pounds of liquefied petroleum gas);
  • The number of liquefied petroleum gas containers shall not exceed the number of workers assigned to using the liquefied petroleum gas; and
  • Containers of greater than two and one-half pounds water capacity shall not be left unattended in such buildings.

Fire pits may be used in outdoor settings if approved in advance and in writing by Environmental Health and Safety and the Office of Student Centers. Contact Environmental Health and Safety for additional information.

Please contact Environmental Health and Safety if you have any questions related to grill use or liquid propane cylinder storage.

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Catered Events

Event occupancy cannot exceed pre-approved occupancy limits as identified on City of Chicago Occupancy Placards.

The department hosting the event shall ensure that all of the general fire safety items in this section are followed. Event organizers shall ensure that the caterer is aware of the requirement that it shall supply and ensure that an appropriate number of fire extinguishers, as determined by Environmental Health and Safety are available. Event organizers shall also ensure that personnel in charge of site operations are familiar with the location of the closest fire alarm pull station and with the procedures for summoning emergency assistance.

Exits shall remain unobstructed and provide clear access at all times during the event, including tent and courtyard exits. Tent ropes shall not cross an exit at a height less than seven feet. Banners and informational material shall not block any emergency safety equipment such as fire alarm panels, pull stations, stairs, detectors, hoses, extinguishers, exit signage, exit paths, etc. Standard equipment set-up plans exist for common gathering areas and shall be followed unless otherwise approved. Table and chair set-up arrangements that may interfere with exits shall be reviewed by Environmental Health and Safety.

Equipment fueled by small heat sources that can be readily extinguished by water, such as solid alcohol burning devices (e.g., Sterno gel fuel) is allowed in public spaces, provided that the devices are attended to while a flame is present. The use of solid alcohol burning devices is prohibited in non-approved areas such as offices, dorm rooms, or sleeping areas. An individual from the sponsoring department, or their authorized designee, shall conduct a post-event check to ensure all fire sources are extinguished and that the space is returned to its previous state.

Tents, awnings, and canopy type structures shall be properly certified as flame retardant per NFPA 701, shown on the original label. If there is no label, the owner of the tent will verify the tent is flame retardant with other documentation; otherwise the tent may not be used.  No hay, straw, shavings or similar combustible materials are permitted. Fire equipment (hydrants, connections, fire extinguishers, hoses, sprinklers, detectors, panels, horns, lights, pull stations, etc.) shall not be blocked by the placement of the temporary structure. One portable fire extinguisher shall be furnished at each exit of an enclosed tent and within 25 feet of cooking appliances as reviewed by Environmental Health and Safety.

Cooking equipment shall be used in strict accordance with the manufacturer’s and listing agency’s instructions, including replacement fuel and parts. Electrical installations shall comply with National Electrical Code and be coordinated by Facilities Services or Physical Plant. Electrical equipment shall not have frayed cords, shall have three prong grounded plugs, and shall be used as designed.

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Smoking is prohibited in all University buildings in accordance with the City of Chicago Clean Indoor Air Ordinance 7-32-010. The proper disposal of smoking and smokeless tobacco material is the responsibility of the smoker/tobacco end user and shall be discarded of in approved containers designed for collection of smoking material. Please refer to the University’s Smoking/Nonsmoking policy for additional information.

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All units must follow the reporting procedures outlined in the Accident Incident Reporting and Investigation Program and summarized below: 

  • Immediately call 773.702.8181 in the event of a confirmed fire; and
  • Submit details of confirmed fire and events considered a close call that could have resulted in a fire to the University of Chicago Accident Incident Reporting (UCAIR) platform.

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Environmental Health and Safety shall be responsible for ensuring that appropriate fire safety and evacuation training is developed and implemented to provide employees with a working knowledge of fire and life safety practices, as well as emergency procedures.

To address the regulations promulgated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), the University of Chicago has required fire safety and emergency evacuation training be completed by every full-time University employee on an annual basis. This mandatory training course can be completed via the EHSA website.

Fully remote employees are exempt from completing this online annual training and need to request an exemption by filling out this online form. After receiving an exemption, these employees will no longer receive the upcoming and overdue/expired training reminders. 

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This Policy shall be enforced by Environmental Health and Safety and non-compliance shall be determined by complaint investigations, compliance audits, regulatory citations, etc.

Failure to comply with this Policy may result in disciplinary action in accordance with the appropriate University policy/handbook.

Note:  Professional schools and other units may also have additional policies/handbooks. 

Reviewed: May 2024

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Regulatory References

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.38, Emergency Action Plans

Chicago Building Code 14X 5-505.4.1, Posted Occupancy Capacity

Chicago Fire Prevention Code 14F-13, Obstruction of Exits

Chicago Fire Prevention Code 15-26-540, Liquefied Petroleum Gas, Where Prohibited

NFPA 701, Standard Methods of Fire Test for Propagation of Textiles and Films

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Guidance Documents

Fire Safety Policy Guidance Document

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