Campus Fire Safety Month closes, grant for research funding

By Angelica Lavito

Evacuating a dark, smoke-filled burning building can be terrifying. 

Approximately 125 University students attended the 19th Fire Factor Academy, a hands-on fire safety workshop at the Illinois Fire Service Institute on Saturday to improve their fire safety skills.

Held each semester by the Champaign and Urbana Fire and Neighborhood Services Departments, University Housing Office, Dean’s Office and the Illinois Fire Service Institute, Fire Factor gives students the opportunity to practice situational fire safety skills through a variety of stations.

“We were having problems with the lack of respect when firefighters would show up at a scene or a false alarm,” said Janet Maupin, deputy fire marshal at the Champaign Fire Department.  “People were very uncooperative as far as leaving the building.”

In response, Fire Factor was created to raise awareness about fire safety and improve the relationship between firefighters and students.

Attendees distributed free smoke detectors to off-campus student houses to help raise awareness for September’s Campus Fire Safety Month in Illinois.

Participants were given the chance to practice their fire extinguisher skills and learn how to evacuate a high-rise residence in smoke-filled conditions.

“It was pitch black with smoke to try and make you feel like you’re in a real fire, to show you that you need to be aware of where exits are in any sort of building, whenever you’re in a building,” said Sarah Olson, a sophomore who attended Fire Factor as a representative of her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.

Two mock dorm rooms, one with a sprinkler system and one without, were set ablaze to highlight the difference sprinklers can make in a fire.

“Students told us they don’t mind spending time if it’s actually hands-on learning,” Maupin said.

Olson said the most eye-opening part of the workshop was learning about overcrowding and the importance of being aware of exits in case evacuation is necessary.

“A lot of kids go out and don’t realize that overcrowding is really an issue at the bars here,” Olson said. “I normally don’t think of other ways to get out of a building if it needs to be evacuated.”

Olson plans on sharing her newfound awareness and thinks other students could benefit from attending Fire Factor. Members of fraternities and sororities on campus, as well as residence advisers, are encouraged to attend the workshop, Maupin said.

“I think it’s really great that they have one representative from each dorm and of each sorority and fraternity attend to spread the message to everyone else for how important it is to be aware,” Olson said.

Illinois Fire Service Institute receives more than $1.4 million in federal funding

The Board of Trustees received a $1,492,545 grant from FEMA for fire prevention and safety that will go toward the Illinois Fire Service Institute. 

The grant will fund a research project to study the risks to cardiac stress and carcinogens that firefighters face when responding to a fire, said Gavin Horn, director of research at the Illinois Fire Service Institute.

“It’s going to provide us a chance to study two of the most important health concerns that the fire service faces in a single study,” Horn said. 

He said that sudden cardiac events are the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths in the fire service, with cancer being one of the primary chronic health concerns associated with firefighting.

The study will send 36 firefighters to a controlled, small fire, which they will respond to as if it was a normal fire. 

Once the firefighters contain the fire, researchers will use EKGs to measure their heart’s electrical activity. Researchers will also measure the subjects’s core temperatures and measure the amount of particulates and carcinogens on the firefighters’ skin.

“We’re also interested in seeing how firefighters recover from this,” Horn said. “We’re looking at heart rate, core temperature, EKG as well as anything that gets any of these carcinogens metabolized in the body for up to 12 hours after they’ve completed the firefighting activity.”

Research from Underwriters Laboratories, who will be working with the institute on the study, indicated that modern house fires are more dangerous and pose more of a risk than in the past. They concluded that modern homes create a perfect storm of conditions as homes are larger, have more open floor plans, increased fuel loads and new construction materials, according to their website.

“Fires don’t burn the same with fuels that we have today as they did 50 or 60 years ago because we have so many synthetic materials in our homes,” Horn said. “So there are different risks associated with modern fires.”

The grant that the Illinois Fire Service Institute received aims to provide funding for fire prevention as well as firefighter safety research and development. Money from the grant will cover the bulk of this study, according to Horn.

Planning for the study is already underway and Horn said he expects to begin collecting data in the spring. The results of the study are expected to be complete by this time next year. 

Angelica can be reached at [email protected]