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By Laura Shrake
In an effort to promote Fire Safety Month, UK President Eli Capilouto set fire to a mock dorm room outside the Main Building on Wednesday.
“We talk all the time about how important it is that you don’t ignore your fire alarm when it goes off,” said Assistant Fire Marshal Jason Ellis. “So what we do with this demonstration is to show just how quickly a fire can move in a dorm room.”
Ellis said the mock dorm room, uses all the same furniture and accessories from a dorm room on campus, including fire-retardant furniture and decorative posters on the walls.
Once lit, the room is engulfed in flames in minutes. Ellis said the size of a fire doubles every 30 seconds.
“It will take about three minutes for the room to completely catch fire, but in about a minute and a half, the smoke will kill you,” Ellis said. “Many college students think they are invincible, but the message we are trying to get out is that you do not have any extra time when the alarm goes off. The smoke alone will kill you before the flames do.”
Since 2000, there have been 155 fire-related fatalities across the country on college campuses, Ellis said. On average, the Lexington Fire Department is on campus twice daily to respond to fire alarms.Last year UK had 38 active fires on campus.
“The most common denominators for the causes of a fire are candles, extension cords and alcohol,” Ellis said. “Statistically speaking, if we have a fire, it’s going to be in a fraternity or sorority, and there is a 90 percent chance that there will be a fatality.”
What the fire marshals have noticed is messagessuch as “stop, drop and roll” have not matured through the ages, and thus many college-age students are not properly educated about fire safety.
Fire Marshal Greg Williamson said in the past 16 years students have begun to better understand the urgency of a real emergency as well as a drill.
“When I came here 16 years ago, it was typical to have 15 or 20 people stay in the building,” Williamson said. “We don’t have that anymore. People understand the urgency, and they get out as fast as they can.”
Much of this awareness is attributed to the training and education of students in emergency situations.
“We offer fire extinguisher trainings for the hall directors and resident assistants who are then required to relay the fire safety information to the residents,” said Ellis, a 21-year service veteran. “The Number 1 thing we tell people is that the easiest fire to fight is one you can prevent.
“We tell (students) they can’t have these things in the dorm because every one of them has started a fire on a college campus somewhere.”
Lt. Keith Smith of the Lexington Fire Department emphasized the importance of fire-safety awareness on campus.
“(This demonstration) shows very well how quickly a room will burn,” said Smith, a member of the fire department for 21 years. “You can’t get a better demonstration than just doing it; our firefighters want to use this as a training exercise, which goes to show how well it is set up.”
The demonstration also included a smoke tent which emphasized the disorienting nature of a room filled with smoke. National Campus Fire Safety Month will continue through September. No other demonstrations are scheduled at this time.