The 8-foot-by-8-foot room constructed of plywood and plaster was furnished with a bed, microwave, desk, extension cords and other legal and illegal accessories typically found in a dorm room.
The fire ravaged the room in just 2 minutes and 45 seconds; all contents were turned into a mass of charred remains and melted twisted plastic.
“Fire safety is a primary concern,” Ralph Aloia, a fire and life safety officer, said. “It just takes one minute for a fire to get out of control.”
The Allegany Fire Department, the Medical Emergency Response Team and Safety and Security volunteered personnel and materials to assist during the blaze.
The mock dorm fire cost less than $300 out of the fire and safety budget, Vito Czyz, director of Safety and Security, said.
Czyz took the time before the demonstration to explain to students the importance of fire safety. He said the loss of a life to a fire breaking out is preventable with smart choices and education.
“I report at least one fire safety hazard a day,” Aloia said. “Typically, it is an exit light out, doors propped open, but unfortunately, this campus’ No. 1 problem is the tampering of fire safety devices such as fire extinguishers. That is a life safety device, and tampering with them can get people arrested for it.”
Along with the visual of the burning mock dorm room, Safety and Security gave out pamphlets on fire safety awareness.
“Watching that fire made me so nervous, I’m going to sleep with one eye open and check my smoke detector,” said Hayley Calcagno, a sophomore.
“Many students are unaware of what will produce these flames,” Czyz said. “Alcohol, cooking, smoking and the use of extension cords are all sources of dorm room fires. I hope this demonstration educates them, and they make fire safety apart of their daily lives.”
Matt Schweiger, a freshman, said he now has the right perspective about fire safety.
“I was really surprised about just how fast it all went up,” Schweiger said. “It just took a minute for the smoke and flame to cover everything. This definitely put fire safety in perspective, and I hope they do this next year.”
Approximately 200 onlookers attended the mock dorm fire, according to Czyz.
“There are over 3,000 dorm fires a year, averaging 40 deaths across the United States on college campuses alone,” Czyz said. “Many of them are alcohol-related.
“We hope this really drives home to students how important fire safety is,” Czyz said.
Emily Magavern contributed to the reporting of this story.
Published by The Bona Venture on Sept. 17, 2010