Memorial fund pays for smoking cessation, fire safety programs

Students could pick up fire safety information and 9-volt batteries for their smoke detectors Thursday during convocation hour outside the Commuter Center at the “Change Your Clocks, Change Your Batteries” event.

The Undergraduate Student Government, Commuter Center and Dean of Students Office all sponsored the event, which was paid for by a fund set up in honor of Michael Larson, a St. Thomas sophomore who died in a house fire in December 2010.

<p>Mike Orth, Undergraduate Student Government sophomore class president, talks to a student about fire safety. (Theresa Malloy/TommieMedia)</p>
Mike Orth, Undergraduate Student Government sophomore class president, talks to a student about fire safety. (Theresa Malloy/TommieMedia)

St. Paul Fire Department authorities believe the fire was caused by smoking materials. Rachel Harris, the interim associate dean of students, said Larson’s father approached the dean of students about setting up this memorial fund.

“They had a life insurance policy on him, so they donated the proceeds of that, $10,000,” Harris said. “They wanted it to be put toward fire safety and smoking cessation.“

Harris added that the university has formed a committee to plan fire safety and smoking cessation programs on campus.

Mike Orth, USG sophomore class president, was Larson’s friend and is on the task force committee overseeing the programming. He said this is the first program they’ve put on about fire safety.

Orth and other USG members distributed 180 batteries to students and handed out phamplets about fire safety.

“We’d like to hold this event every six months for as long as we can,” Orth said. “The nice thing about this event is that it really didn’t just cost that much money at all.”

Josh Hengemuhle, commuter center and off-campus student services area manager, helped distribute information and said more students have been coming in with fire safety questions since Larson’s death.

He advises students to develop a fire escape plan and maybe buy an escape ladder or safety equipment.

Hengemuhle said cooking fires are the No. 1 cause of fires at college student residences, according to the St. Paul Fire Department.

“Knowing what you want to do if you have a grease fire, even the simple things like having a fire extinguisher for your house or apartment,” Hengemuhle said. “Simple things to do [are] really the best first steps.”

More fire safety and smoking cessation programming planned

Harris said more events will be announced after spring break, and the committee is open to student suggestions for programming.

The committee has talked about creating smoking quit kits with nicotine patches and setting up a smoking cessation program that would support students seeking a prescription to quit smoking.

The group is also talking with the St. Paul Fire Department about holding a live burn to show students a simulated kitchen fire.

“It’s a really effective way to understand how scary a fire can be, and how quickly things can combust,” Harris said.

Orth said his personal goal on the committee is to make sure people remember Michael Larson.

“He’s a friend of mine, and I think there is something really good that can come out of his death,” Orth said.

Orth added, “I think this is kind of the first thing that will be the start of what we hope will be just a few years of programming and so that’s something that I’m personally excited about, and I want to add that dynamic to this initiative.”

Theresa Malloy can be reached at