By Connie Lee
Nobody ever calls the fire department after doing something smart. This week is Fire Safety Week at Grinnell and it is all about making smart choices to prevent fires. Most people don’t think about fire safety on a day-to-day basis or think that they are creating potential fire hazards. Have a candle in your room? Is it near your curtains? Have a tapestry covering the lights? Ever leave incense unattended? These are all easy ways to start accidental fires.
“We had a dorm room catch on fire in Younker. A student left a candle and it caught the drapes on fire. Just gutted the room,” said Russ Motta, Campus Security.
Many people are unaware of what to do in case of a fire.
“People don’t usually die of the actual fire. They die of the smoke,” said Jed Peteresen, Grinnell Firefighter.
Everyone remembers the phrase “Stop, drop, and roll” but what about using a fire extinguisher properly? Most of the fire extinguishers on campus can only last about 30 seconds before emptying out.
“When you’re using a fire extinguisher, try to get as close as you can and still be safe. The acronym we have everybody learn is P.A.S.S. P is pull the pin and then aim, squeeze, and sweep,” said Petersen.
Knowing how to use a fire extinguisher properly could save your life or someone else’s.
“Fire extinguishers are really good at knocking down the flame, so you can get out of the building,” Motta said.
If you have never used a fire extinguisher, the Grinnell Fire Department has promised to come back and teach students to put out fires. They will light an oil pan on fire and show you how to put it out.
“I’ve actually seen people pull the pin like a grenade. It was a Grinnell cop. He pulled the pin and threw it like a grenade,” Petersen said.
A person’s main priority when dealing with a fire should always be to get out and stay alive. Personal belongings can be replaced.
“In sixty seconds, you could have a room totally engulfed,” Motta said. The Grinnell Fire Department is not notified until 911 is dialed and by the time they are notified, your room could be covered in flames.
“When it reaches that point of flashover is when everything in the room ignites,” Petersen said.
Grinnell’s campus is equipped with many ways to deal with fires.
“A lot of campuses don’t have [complete sprinkler systems]. If there’s a fire in those rooms, those sprinklers kick in and plaster the area with water,” said Stephen Briscoe, Director of Campus Safety and Security.
Another fire protection system Grinnell has is a Halon Suppression System in the basement of Goodnow Hall.
“We get a fire alarm in Goodnow and if it’s in the basement, you get out and call . Cause Halon takes away the air and so you can’t breathe. They’re trying to keep those collections in Goodnow from burning,” Motta said.
“There’s a sealed door with a time on it. So that timer will go off and, I don’t know what it is. But you’d probably have 30 seconds to get out of the room and it seals that door,” Petersen said.
In the past years, the Grinnell campus has had some large-scale fires. One started from someone trying to dry his shoes in a microwave.
“In Rose [Hall], it took out the second floor kitchen, the lounge went out, the dorm rooms on either side of it went out, and the three dorm rooms below went out, and there was damage in the pit. You couldn’t believe it,” Motta said.
The Grinnell Fire Department’s main advice is to always follow fire alarms, get out, and stay alive. After standing out in the cold for the fifth false fire alarm that week, most people want to just stay in bed the next time. A lot of people on campus disregard fire alarms because they think there won’t be a real fire.
“You say ‘screw the alarm, I’m going back to bed.’ Next thing you know, [the floor above] is fully engulfed and it’s working its way down to your floor,” Petersen said.
So, next time the fire alarm sounds off and you want to stay in bed, don’t do it. The worst-case scenario could mean having to jump from the window because you realized it was a real fire too late.