WWU to Torch Mock Residence Hall Room

How do you impart the importance of fire safety to college students?
William Woods University hopes it has the answer.

WWU, in conjunction with the Fulton Fire Department, will torch a fully furnished mock residence hall room to show how quickly a room can go up in flames. The demonstration is planned for 12:30 p.m. Tuesday (Sept. 9–note, this is a new date, due to rain expected on the original date) at McBride Ball Field, which is adjacent to the fire station and close to campus.

Mike Wills, WWU director of residential life and campus safety, believes that William Woods has been doing a good job of fire safety, with specialized training for students and staff in firefighting and emergency evacuation. Before the start of school each fall, about 35 community advisors participate in a fire safety course offered by the Fulton Fire Department.

These students, who live in and oversee residence halls at the Woods, get hands-on training in the proper use of a fire extinguisher, followed by a simulation that includes smoked-filled hallways and blocked exits.

This year, Wills added the element of surprise. Instead of scheduling the simulation during the day, he staged it in the middle of the night, when the community advisors weren’t expecting it.

Captain Jim Elkthunder of the Fulton Fire Department stated, “The surprise night drill was a way to help the community advisors know what could happen if a fire was to break out in the residence halls. The drill was a great success and the students learned a lot from it.”

Wills said he also gave the community advisors a step-by-step list: “These are the things you can do to save lives . . . and this is what we expect of you.”

Despite their efforts, Wills said, “Fire safety remains a challenge for universities. You’re always looking for ways to keep it fresh and make an impact so students remember what to do.”

Wills attended an Association of College and University Housing Officers-International conference in Florida in June and returned with an idea borrowed from Syracuse University.

“They did a live burn demonstration on their campus and they talked about how successful it was. They showed the students just how fast a room burns, what it looks like and what it feels like.”

Representatives from Syracuse shared everything, including a list of materials needed. Mid-City Lumber in Fulton is donating the supplies to build the 10 x 8 mock residence hall room for William Woods. Engineer Todd Gray of the Fulton Fire Department is constructing it.

The live burn will not focus on the ignition (such as a candle, overloaded circuits, frayed extension cord, halogen lamp, plug-in air freshener, space heater or cigarette), but rather on what Wills calls “the reality of the result.”

“We want this to be more of a hands-on experience,” Gray said. “We want them to see and feel the heat it gives off.”

Wills added, “Showing them what it will do to their room will form a lasting memory. That memory will mean more than words on paper—that memory will serve them later should they ever find themselves in such a situation on or off campus.”