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Mock dorm room set ablaze in MU fire safety demonstration

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 | 5:52 p.m. CDT; updated 9:17 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Caroline Dobrez, 19, an MU sophomore, hoists a fire hose over her shoulder while Lt. Ron Fisher, assistant fire marshal of the Columbia Fire Department, gives her instructions in preparation for the firefighter challenge Wednesday. The firefighter challenge was part of Fire Factor, an event put on by both the Fire Department and MU to raise fire safety awareness among college students.

COLUMBIA — The Columbia Fire Department took an entertaining approach to promoting fire safety among MU students Wednesday — torching a dorm room.

A few hundred students gathered on campus near Lowry Mall for Fire Factor, an annual fire safety and awareness event organized by the Fire Department and MU. In addition to burning a mock dorm room constructed at Speakers Circle, the event included a firefighter challenge course and free food.

Fire safety tips

Columbia Battalion Chief Steven Sapp offered a few tips to prevent and stay safe in the event of a fire:

  • Test your fire alarm
  • Don’t block exits
  • Know a second way out of a building
  • Don’t leave cooking unattended
  • Dispose cigarettes properly

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Firefighters lit a flame in the trash can of the burning room, which was equipped with typical dorm room fixtures. Within a minute, flames leapt up and caught fire to a shirt hanging on the wall. Next, the curtains. Then, the "Hot Tub Time Machine" poster.

Within two minutes, Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said the fire had reached 800 degrees.

“If you were in this room and you took a single breath, it would sear your lungs,” he said.

After three minutes, firefighters put out the blaze that had engulfed the room.

Although several crowd members cheered when the fire intensified and let out disappointed moans when the hoses were turned on, some attendees said the experience left an impact.

“It was intense. I didn’t realize a room could go so fast," said MU junior Rikki Thompson, 21. “You have no time to get out. It makes me want to go check my fire alarm.”

Fire Factor was first held in 2001, after a fraternity house fire resulted in the death of MU freshman Dominic Passantino in 1999.

Sapp said there have been no deaths in campus fires since then and added that the number of campus fires reported “is on a downward trend.”

This is the third year Fire Factor included the burning room.

Sapp said the visual appeal of the event was a good way to raise awareness about fire safety and reduce the number of campus fires.

“We’re looking for a way to captivate our audience,” he said. “This drives home that this is a non-survivable event that can occur in two minutes.”

Sapp said unattended cooking was the leading cause of fires in Columbia, and also stressed that alcohol impairment was sometimes a problem involved in campus fires.

Although it drew less of a crowd than the burning room, the firefighter challenge attracted students. In the challenge, attendees were timed as they went through a course where they carried a hose and equipment, swung a sledgehammer and dragged a dummy to safety.

MU freshman Takyra Smith, 18, said the challenge wasn’t easy.

“It takes a lot of energy to be a fireman,” she said. "It was a great experience to see what someone else does for me.”


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