Within a minute of being set on fire on Monday afternoon, one of the two dorm room mockups in the parking lot of McNary Hall at Oregon State University was engulfed in flames.
A Corvallis Fire Department engine arrived about 30 seconds later, and firefighters quickly put out the blaze in the dorm room, which had no sprinkler system. The other room sustained far less damage because its sprinkler system went off almost as soon as smoke appeared.
This was the third year that the two portable, scale-model dorm rooms crammed with bedding, computers and even pizza boxes were used during a fire safety education program coordinated by the Corvallis Fire Department and Oregon State University.
More than 100 resident assistants were learning about the dangers of fires and how to prevent them two weeks before the start of classes Sept. 27. In addition to watching the dorm room mockups burn, the students learned how to use a portable fire extinguisher and crawled through a smoked-filled building.
Teal Pershing, a junior in physics, is preparing to be a resident assistant for the second year. Although he participated in the fire safety education program last year, he said this year’s program still was beneficial.
“It’s a good refresher,” Pershing said. “It shows how significant it is to be prepared because fires are very serious.”
Showing students how quickly fires can spread was one of the main goals of the demonstration.
Jim Patton, fire prevention officer for the Fire Department, said that he wanted students to understand the importance of taking alarms seriously.
“When they hear the alarm, they need to get out,” Patton said. “They should never wait and see what’s going on. Because you never know how quickly a fire can get out of control.”
Patton said the majority of fires that occur at OSU are student-related.
“You have young students who are away from home for the first time,” Patton said. “So they want to test their limits. That can include alcohol, which can impair their decision-making. Combine those and you sometimes have a dangerous combination.”
However, one of the biggest reasons for fire calls at OSU is popcorn. Patton said the fire crews respond to between 20 and 24 calls each school year related to popcorn being left in microwaves.
“Bags are left in the microwaves,” Patton said. “The smoke can set off alarms. But we are working hard to make students aware of that. We don’t want to have four stations responding to a bag of popcorn.”
The scale-model dorm rooms will make another appearance at OSU on Wednesday at the LaSells Stewart Center.