The Science Behind the Fine

“Fire Safety woke me up this morning,” my freshman year roommate indignantly told me one afternoon. “And they fined me for my hot pot!” A hot pot? Why would she get fined for something as harmless as a hot pot? More importantly, how was she expected to eat her ramen without the beloved hot pot? Oddly enough, when it comes to fire safety inspections, hot pots are not the only seemingly innocent items on the list of violations. And while many of these items may be considered obvious fire hazards (such as open flame candles or combustible materials), the reasoning for other common violations can be explained with science.


One fire safety violation is “daisy chaining,” or plugging one power strip into another. The reason for this one is going to require some physics. The items you plug into a power strip are connected in parallel (meaning that each electronic item receives the same voltage and different current). Each item you plug into the power strip requires a certain amount of current to operate, and if the maximum allowable current of the power strip is exceeded, then the power strip fails, which sometimes results in a fire. Daisy chaining could cause an overload on the power strip because, assuming each power strip has six outlets, there are now 12 items plugged into a single power strip that is only manufactured to power six electronics.

Another common fire safety violation is the infamous $25 fine for a propped door. Propping your door is very common, and the objects used to prop vary from recycling bins to a collapsed cardboard Amazon box to rogue sneakers. When the door to your room is closed, it creates a barrier between you and a potential fire that may be spreading in your hall. A building fire spreads via conduction such that the heat energy of the fire will spread from one floorboard to the floorboard directly next to it and so on due to direct contact. Fire barriers, such as walls and doors, limit the conduction of fire and the spread of smoke. So if there is no fire, un-propping your door is strictly precautionary. As long as there are no fires (and no upcoming fire safety inspections), a propped door is completely fine. However, in the case of a fire, definitely close the door.

These are just a few of many common fire safety violations, and although there are violations that seem ridiculous, there is usually a scientific reason behind it all. Now go hide your hot pots!


About The Author

This is my second year working with Innovation. I am currently an editor of the health section, but my main scientific interests lie in energy and sustainability (environmental engineering whooo). I hope that Innovation succeeds in making science news both interesting and accessible to all students on campus. Besides Innovation, my other interests include: the weather, the ocean, chemistry, food, puns, funny pictures on the internet, snowball fights, and coffee.