St. Thomas students witnessed a dorm room engulfed in flames on Thursday on the John P. Monahan Plaza, but a 9-1-1 call was not necessary.
The Michael Larson Memorial Fund and the St. Paul Fire Department sponsored the mock burn demonstration to address two major points: smoking cessation and fire safety and prevention.
“The St. Paul Fire Department is doing a great deal of service and contributing a great deal of effort, time, and resources to this,” Josh Hengemuhle, demonstration coordinator and area manager for off-campus student services, said.
The first demonstration showed a grease fire and methods of extinguishing it. SPFD Officer Dominic Novak said the crowd should never use water as a way of putting out a grease fire.
A dorm room replica was burned in the second fire demonstration. The structure included a table, television set, two chairs, and other types of dorm room furniture. After the fire reached 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit in four minutes and 15 seconds, two St. Paul firefighters extinguished the blaze.
The third demonstration was also of a dorm room fire, but included an installed sprinkler system. Novak said with a sprinkler system in place, damage repair costs around $500, and without one, it would cost close to $100,000 to repair.
Novak gave helpful advice to the crowd.
“Have working detectors in every room,” Novak said. “The fire code requires a detector in every bedroom. Have an escape plan and make sure you have two ways to get out.”
Undergraduate Student Government president Mike Orth encouraged students to have fun at the event and think about its significance.
“It’s not only exciting to watch, it makes you take a step back and think about the power that a fire can have, especially when it starts with something as small as a cigarette,” Orth said.
Hengemuhle said many people in the St. Thomas community are still affected by the fire that took former St. Thomas student Michael Larson’s life in December 2010.
“The more awareness of the ways you can protect yourself and be safe, the more awareness we have around prevention from the start,” Hengemuhle said. “It becomes an even more remote possibility that these things happen.”
Senior Jahi Bernard was one of Michael Larson’s roommates during their freshman year. He said having a fire safety demonstration is important because it creates awareness of fire safety among the student body.
“I’m excited to see that people are taking action,” Bernard said. “Being aware of something so simple and something so easy to take care of is good.”
Hengemuhle said sometimes it takes a very dramatic turn of events to make an impact on students.
“Our hope is that this controlled, very dramatic thing makes the impact, rather than something off-campus and uncontrolled,” Hengemuhle said.
After attending the event, the SPFD and Michael Larson Memorial Fund hope people see the importance of preventing fires and that they are prepared to take the necessary precautions.
“You should check your smoke detector batteries, look for carbon monoxide detectors, know where the fire extinguishers are in a building, and have an escape plan,” Hengemuhle said. “We’ll all be in better shape.”
Bjorn Saterbak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.