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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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Lesson of the day: campus fire safety

Students learn how to use a fire extinguisher during last Wednesday’s Fire Prevention Day at Stony Brook. Nina Lin / The Statesman

For a regular college student like Ming Chen, walking around in a firefighter’s suit was no light matter. “It’s heavy,” he said, lifting a forty-pound air tank on his back, his entire body encased in more than a hundred pounds of gear. His instructor only chuckled and handed him a pair of thick, three-layered gloves.

“It’s very heavy and very hot,” said Chen, a freshman computer science major at Stony Brook University. “Firefighters have to wear this to work? It’s very difficult.” He stripped it off, visibly relieved, before another student stepped into the suit provided by the Central Islip Fire Department.

The CIFD was only one of many fire departments and fire prevention groups that appeared during last Wednesday’s Campus Fire Prevention Day at the Academic Mall.

Held in conjunction with the Homecoming Kick-off, the annual event was created after a dorm fire broke out in Seton Hall University in 2000. Started as a prank in one of Seton’s freshman dorms, the fire killed three students and injured many others. As a result, the university invites fire departments from various Long Island facilities to give demonstrations on fire safety and proper evacuation techniques every September.

“National Fire Safety Month is actually in October,” said Christopher Portelli, a captain with the CIFD. “But they do this earlier in September for the freshmen here.”

He stood in front of a smoke filled trailer dubbed the ‘Safety House,’ urging students to walk in. “We’ve been doing this for four years,” said Portelli. “One of the firefighters from my department, from my unit, he’s a fire marshal here. He was the one who invited us four years ago to do this.”

SBU had its own activities too. A favorite? Having students handle a fire extinguisher.

“We’ve been doing this for at least five, six years,” said Peter Marcks, the fire safety supervisor at SBU. “This is traditional training used in campuses across the nation and it is good training for students.”

One of nine fire marshals with SBU, Marcks spent his Wednesday teaching students the P.A.S.S. method for using fire extinguishers—pull, aim, squeeze and sweep.

“We don’t require students to need to use an extinguisher,” Marcks said. “In fact, I would strongly encourage students to evacuate instead. But it’s good knowledge to have at home, and it’s good to understand how to use one outside too.”

However, even with such heavy emphasis on fire safety, a concern still remains. Although newer dorms like the Nobel Halls are fully covered with sprinklers, the fact remains that many buildings on campus are not.

“It depends on when the dorms are constructed,” Marcks said. Dorms built before current fire codes did not have sprinklers in every room.

“All of the dormitories are at least partially sprinkled,” said John Gallo, the manager of fire safety at SBU. “When they go under [the next] major renovation, the renovations will include adding sprinklers, similar to what we did over at the Chapin apartments.”

But with or without sprinklers, what would happen when an alarm goes off or a fire breaks out on campus?

“On activation of any fire alarm, the university police will dispatch a police officer and a fire marshal,” Gallo said. “We will respond first, followed very quickly by the local volunteer fire departments. They get notified immediately upon our activation.”

The primary goal is to make sure that all students, staff and faculty is evacuated, he said. “The biggest thing our students need to realize is that when a fire alarm goes off—regardless of the time, if it’s day or the middle of the night—they need to evacuate and evacuate immediately.”

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