As students head to college, they’re usually concerned with classes, friends, and their newfound independence – not fire safety.
But, following a June 29 three-alarm fire that forced the evacuation of a University of California, Berkeley dorm, the state is putting an emphasis on making sure campuses are fire safe.
This month has been named National Campus Fire Safety Month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and CAL FIRE – Office of the State Fire Marshal, in hopes of promoting campus fire safety awareness and supporting the development of fire safe student housing – both on campus and off.
“With approximately four million students currently attending colleges and universities in California, knowing the steps to prevent or escape a fire while attending college can be lifesaving,” said Acting State Fire Marshal Tonya Hoover. “Getting this information into the hands – and heads – of students, parents, landlords and the schools is as critical as ever.”
Fortunately for local students at California State University, Stanislaus, Turlock’s university is already among the most fire-safe campuses in America.
The Princeton Review gave CSU Stanislaus a score of 99 out of 100 for fire safety in its recent “Best 373 Colleges” list.
“We do have a really high rating there, and we have a great program of frequent evacuation drills each semester,” said Amy Thomas, CSU Stanislaus Safety & Risk manager.
CSU Stanislaus undergoes a rigorous program of evacuation drills, chronicled in its state-mandated annual report, with buildings usually emptying in five minutes or less.
But student dormitories were a sore spot for the university in past years, with evacuations taking upwards of 10 minutes as residents lackadaisically sauntered from their rooms. In response, CSU Stanislaus implemented an in-depth training program for resident advisors, complete with a visit to the Stanislaus County Fire Training Center and videos displaying “scary stuff” which had occurred in dorm fires at other universities.
“Sure enough, they cut the time in half and it was below five minutes,” Thomas said.
The CSU Stanislaus dorms also benefit from their recent, 1994 construction, including flame-resistant furniture and water sprinklers throughout the development. Many campuses still lack sprinklers in their dorms, Thomas said.
To ensure everything remains in tip-top shape, the State Fire Marshall comes and inspects the university annually, with any necessary repairs completed in less than 30 days.
Fire safety relies on students too, as unsafe activities can easily lead to fires. The one fire in the CSU Stanislaus dorms’ history came in its very first year, due to a candle lit in a dorm room.
Now, the dorms feature a strict housing policy barring many common sources of fires – candles included. Even extension cords are prohibited, with RAs confiscating cords encountered during routine health and safety inspections.
Should something catch on fire – or even start smoldering – the extra-sensitive, State Fire Marshall-mandated alarms will quickly start sounding. Those alarms are so good at their jobs that, much to the annoyance of students, they’ll sometimes go off even for a badly burned bag of popcorn.
There was such a rash of popcorn burning in the past few years, Thomas said, that her office tried to test different brands to provide microwave timing guidelines to residents. The results of the testing were inconclusive, but the research points to CSU Stanislaus’ commitment to prevent fires.
“That’s how far we’ve gone to really combat fire alarms and prevent students from having to evacuate,” Thomas said.
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