Members of Oregon State University's Greek houses faced this challenge on Wednesday: Crawl through a smoke-filled trailer in the parking lot of Reser Stadium and rescue a teddy bear.

The simulation — the smoke came from a machine — was put on by the Corvallis Fire Department during a day of activities meant to inform fraternity and sorority members on fire prevention and how to deal with a fire if one starts.

“Going through the trailer was actually pretty scary because seeing how impaired you are when smoke affects you and how hard it is to see, it was awesome and a good learning experience, too,” said Conor Delaney, a 19-year-old member of Pi Kappa Phi.

The students, about 100 in total and representing all 30-plus Greek houses, first attended a lecture on fire safety by fire prevention officer Jim Patton. The firefighter talked with students about when to have their fire alarms inspected, how to prevent nuisance alarms (accidental or purposeful setting off of fire alarms), fire drill requirements, kitchen fire safety and more.

Patton said the Fire Department responds to about two dozen alarms at Greek houses each year, most of which are nuisance alarms. He stressed to students the importance of making sure firefighters only are summoned to real emergencies.

Patton also talked with the students about the requirements for registering a party. The Fire Department visits each Greek house that applies to have a large party to ensure the space is safe. On-duty battalion chiefs also stop by during each party to ensure the space is not overcrowded and partiers are not blocking exits.

Megan Kittel said she had never used a fire extinguisher before Wednesday’s activities. Each student was required to use a fire extinguisher to put out flames in a small trash can.

“Knowing that and being able to feel like you can conquer it in a way and it doesn’t scare you takes away that fear factor of it,” said Kittel, a 20-year-old member of the House of Charis.

She said the day’s activities, which also included quickly donning full firefighter turnout gear, helped her understand her house’s rules.

“You can have all the fun you want, but if someone could get hurt doing it, I don’t think it’s worth it,” Kittel said. “So being aware of all the different rules that you have just to make sure that people are safe in your house is probably my biggest takeaway from this.”

Logan Price, also a member of Pi Kappa Phi, said he will work to inform the other members of his house who weren’t in attendance of what he learned about fire safety.

“When you’re living with 50 of your brothers you want to make sure everyone is as safe as possible,” the 19-year-old said. “Everyone should be exposed to fire safety and know where everything is in the house to better protect the house as a whole.”

Patton said the yearly event builds a partnership between the Greek community and the Fire Department, allowing them to respect one another.

“Before they act badly they think, ‘Hey, I’ve met these guys and it’s a tough job. I’ve put on the stuff they have to wear when they come to my house for a nuisance alarm,’” he said.

The Greek fire academy, which is in its 14th year, has proven successful in decreasing the number of fires and false alarms in the houses, Patton said.

“Most years we have no fires in these houses, so we’re grateful for that,” he said. “And a lot of it is because of the hard work of these young people who are taking their jobs seriously and doing the things that we train them to do.”

The department holds the voluntary event every year since new students are moving out of and into the Greek houses. Many of the house’s live-in “moms” and “dads” as well as alumni attend the fire academy to support the students.

The event traditionally includes a live fire demonstration in which dorm rooms constructed on a reusable trailer are ignited. One of the rooms has a sprinkler system while the other does not, allowing the students to see the magnitude of an uncontrolled fire. Since a burn ban is in effect in Benton County, that activity was canceled this year. 

Lillian Schrock covers public safety for the Gazette-Times. She may be reached at 541-758-9548 or lillian.schrock@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at @LillieSchrock. 

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