Students, staff, and members of the Bates community gathered on the field between Smith and Garcelon on Friday for Bates’ seventh annual Fire Safety Day. The event was originally supposed to be a day earlier but was postponed due to rainy conditions.
Members of the Lewiston Fire Department were on hand to burn down a replica dorm room, complete with furniture, posters and empty beer cans. The controlled blaze was meant to demonstrate to attending students how quickly a fire can spread once it has started and the way that smoke can fill a room. Firefighters even waited the amount of time it would take them to arrive on scene from their station. The display was meant to be as accurate as possible, with even a smoke alarm being sounded at the appropriate time.
According to Jim Guzelian, Bates’ Health and Safety Specialist, the purpose of the demonstration was not only to make sure students are alert once a fire alarm goes off but to make them aware of the things they can do in their rooms to help prevent a fire.
“I demonstrate with a candle because you’re not supposed to have candles,” said Guzelian, knowing well that many people break this rule. Later, when introducing the fire demonstration, Guzelian joked that students should be wary of candles even though they can add a “romantic” feel to rooms. Firefighters used a candle to start the blaze, knocking it into a nearby trash bin. As a result of the windy conditions, firefighters eventually had to add several flammable blankets to the replica dorm room in order to make the inferno spread.
Despite these technical difficulties, the demonstration still left a strong impact on many of the spectators. Several students remarked that watching the blaze had not only been entertaining but would impact their attitude toward fire safety in the future. Though he noted that the event got off to a slow start because of the wind, Rob Flynn ’18 felt that Fire Safety Day’s message was clearly communicated.
“I’m not much of a candle user but I think I’ll definitely take [fire safety] more seriously and look out for other friends who may partaking in those kinds of behaviors,” said Flynn.
In addition to the simulated dorm fire, Guzelian and the other organizers of fire safety day offered students the opportunity to wear “drunk goggles” that simulated the effects of alcohol on balance and coordination. Students could be seen racing each other across the field, swerving as a result of the goggles’ distorted lenses. The organizers also offered attendees a free fire safety day t-shirt with an illustration of a Dalmatian on the back, as well as drawstring bags emblazoned with the Bates College logo.
Bates has been holding a fire safety day annually since 2010. According to Guzelian, the school was originally able to put on the event thanks in part to a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as well as the cooperation of the Lewiston Fire Department.
“We got a FEMA grant way back in 2007. We were the first college to get one. With the help of fire department we’ve been doing this and they’ve been responding ever since,” said Guzelian.
The event was one that only could be described as explosive (pun definitely intended).