Students feel the heat in fire demo
by Kevin Rushworth
Within minutes of the first smoke detector screech, fire rippled up the curtains and danced chaotically across the floor. Just as twisting flames deformed a computer screen, a couch lit up in a kaleidoscope of orange and red. The clothes that hung in the closet burned quickly and almost instantaneously; a forgotten coffee cup sitting on the desk melted.
It was this intimate yet strange glimpse into the madness of a house fire that students were given when they arrived for the first Burning Down the House event in Canada. Firefighters lit two furnished, small-sized mock- dormitory rooms ablaze in the SAIT parking lot on Sept. 29 to teach students about fire safety.
The event gave students a chance to feel fire’s ferocity first hand, said Brian McAsey, public information officer for the Calgary Fire Department. “When you’re near it and you feel 2,000-degree heat, it is a lot different than watching it,” he explained. “Being able to see it in person, you realize how fast it is. You really don’t have that time…to collect photos, and think twice and maybe check the door.”
The demonstration fire — set in a garbage bin — soon became what is known as a flash over, where every household item bursts into flame. McAsey said not even a firefighter in full gear could survive such heat, let alone anyone else. As a comparison to the roaring inferno in the first dorm room, a fire set in the other small room was quickly doused with a sprinkler system. It’s important to remind students of basic fire safety when they move away from home and begin renting during university years, McAsey said. “We do a really good job of educating people when they’re young about the dangers of fire and what to do,” he said. “As you get older, you sort of lose that connection. There’s not quite that same continuum in terms of ‘I have to be thinking about fire safety.’ ”
While a smoke detector may not be first and foremost in the minds of first-time renters, he said it is of the utmost importance for the Calgary Fire Department. McAsey said the Burning Down the House event was organized so that the tragedy of the 2009 Parkdale basement fire, which claimed three young lives, would never occur again. For McAsey, a basement fire is one of the scariest things he has ever been in as a firefighter.
In Calgary, tenants can phone 311 to report any problematic breaches of the fire code, including poor heating systems, inadequate smoke detectors and bars on windows. The landlord is notified and if issues are not cleared up within 35 days, the landlord is summoned before the courts, he said. After the Parkdale fire, McAsey said members of the fire department felt they should teach students living off campus about their fire responsibilities in a visceral way.
Just as it is vitally important to have and practice an escape route, every house or rented property must have a working smoke detector, he said. As well, McAsey noted that the Calgary Fire Department offers free detectors and installation for low-income individuals.
While detectors should be checked monthly and batteries replaced every year, he said smoke detectors have a lifespan of ten years. Being prepared and making sure we are safe, it can mitigate the loss of human life and property,” he said. “It’s a great thing to be able to be with those people and help them in their time of need, but it is even better when people don’t need you at all.”
At Mount Royal residences, fire drills are held in the fall and winter semesters, and each unit comes with an extinguisher, a smoke detector and exit maps.