Fire simulation offers refresher about dorm safety
In 15 seconds, the dorm room drapes were burning. After 40 seconds black smoke was billowing from the room. Light bulbs were exploding, a laptop was melting, and searing heat from the blaze could be felt more than 20 feet away.
Just 75 seconds after the fire began, the room was totally engulfed in flames.
Fortunately, this “fire” was a staged event, a demonstration for Fire Prevention Week that attracted hundreds of Carolina students in front of the Russell House Student Union. The dorm room had been constructed there by University Housing carpenters. The room’s contents were all donated items. And Columbia Fire Department personnel were standing by with fire hoses at the ready.
“Our goal is to raise students’ awareness of fire safety, and we felt this was a graphic way of showing students how quickly a fire can spread in a regular dorm room,” said Kirsten Kennedy, director of University Housing. “We want students to get out of their rooms when they hear a fire alarm or smoke alarm. In an actual fire situation there’s not time to even finish an e-mail.”
About 1,700 fires occur in U.S. collegiate housing on and off campus every year; 150 occur in fraternity and sorority houses alone. The leading causes are arson, cooking, and smoking.
About 92 percent of Carolina’s residence halls are equipped with fire sprinkler systems, and projects planned or underway will raise that coverage to about 96 percent by next summer.
“Dorm rooms typically have a big fuel load — drapes, paper, linens — and that’s made worse when students use oversized light bulbs, unapproved space heaters, and other fire hazards,” said Tom Syfert, USC’s associate vice president for environmental health and safety.
Brian Almond, a biomedical engineering freshman, was impressed by the mini-inferno.
“It was kind of scary — my dorm room looks like that,” he said, gesturing at the now-charred room. “I felt the heat when the laptop blew up.”
Another student, sophomore visual communications major Jeremy Aaron, seemed to take the fiery lesson to heart.
“I’m going to be more careful when I’m cooking, that’s for sure,” he said.