Fire safety training held for Residence Life staff
RAs practice using fire extinguishers to put out small fires.
2:57 p.m., Aug. 29, 2008--Crawling through a smoke-filled hallway in a residence hall may not top anyone's list of fun things to do on a summer evening, but when it's part of an organized fire safety training session the experience can provide an invaluable lesson in fire safety awareness.

On Monday, Aug. 25, some 235 Residence Life staff members joined six staffers from UD's Department of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), UD police officers, Aetna Hose, Hook and Ladder Co. volunteers and the Newark City Fire Marshal in a fire-safety training event held Monday evening at various East Campus locations.

“Kevin McSweeney of OHS gave an introductory talk in Bacchus in the Perkins Student Center. The presentation included a short video about how fires can affect a college student on or off campus, as well as providing information abut the safety equipment and systems on the UD campus,” Cathy Skelley, assistant director of residence life, said. “The participants then formed three groups, with one going to another room in Perkins, one to the Harrington Beach basketball courts and a third group going to Gilbert Hall E.”

Skelley said the residence hall, which is not being occupied this year, was filled with simulated smoke, while Residence Life staff received instruction on how to safely navigate a smoke-filled hallway by counting the doors to the exit.

“We had to crawl down the corridor through the smoke. Staff members could opt of the activity is they chose to do so,” Skelley said. “On Harrington Beach, staff members were taught how to use a fire extinguisher to put out a fire, and then had an opportunity to use fire extinguishers. UD Police reviewed fire drill protocol, including how to respond to an alarm.”

Skelley said the training will help Residence Life staff, including residence life assistants (RAs), in their job responsibilities while providing fire safety information to share with student residents.

“The goal is to increase awareness in the areas of fire safety, fire reaction and public safety programs,” McSweeney said. “We value the opportunity to reach this important group of students. They are literally our frontline for information exchange with student residents.”

McSweeney said that other campuses across the country have conducted similar campaigns to raise awareness and provide guidance to students in the event of a fire.

“We offer fire extinguisher familiarization as a chance for participants to recognize that these fire safety devices are available in the event that they need to use them to facilitate evacuation, or if they have confidence enough to extinguish a small fire,” McSweeney said. “We don't want them to risk injury attempting to extinguish a fire.”

The classroom sessions covered topics such as room inspections, reporting unsafe acts and initiating corrective action for deficiencies in the residence halls that develop during the course of the school year, McSweeney said.

“Our aim is to explain why an item appears on the list, and not just tell somebody to do it because we said so,” McSweeney said. “The participants now know that unattended cooking and oven incidents were our leading causes of preventable fire alarm activations in residence halls last year.”

Richard Goldschein, a student in the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy, said that the extended training format helped participants to learn some of the more detailed points about fire safety.

“If we had unanswered questions or concerns from one module of the training, we were able to speak with an expert at another smaller session.” Goldschein said. “Having all the resources in one place made it easier to grasp the material.”

McSweeney said during the course of the school year, information as to why a particular fire alarm occurs in their residence hall will be provided during weekly meetings between OHS/Fire Prevention and Safety program, Public Safety, Facilities electronics and Residence Life staff.

“We want to eliminate nuisance and false alarms. This training was just a first step in developing an annual program, and will help to foster a great relationship with the Delaware State Fire School, the Aetna fire department and the Newark fire marshal with our departments at UD,” McSweeney said. “I think everyone who participated was able to walk away better informed and with a higher level of confidence to react to a fire emergency in our residence halls.”

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photo courtesy of OHS