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The Blue & Gray Press | December 11, 2017

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Fire drills seek to improve incident preparedness

Michael Goodin/ Flickr

By EMILY HOLLINGSWORTH

A series of fire drills will take place in academic and administrative buildings across the University of Mary Washington campus over the next few months.

Beginning on Oct. 27, the university’s Emergency Management and Campus Fire Safety department conducted drills that last between 15-30 minutes, depending on the size of the buildings.

According to Ruth Lovelace, director of emergency management and safety, UMW organizes evacuation drills once every year on academic and administrative buildings.

The announcement of the fire drills on the Eagle Eye online faculty newsletter explained that the drills are conducted in order to “comply with state fire safety guidelines and to enhance the safety of the UMW community.”

The drills will not take place during the week of Dec. 8-12 in order to accommodate students and faculty who will be taking or administering final exams.

In residential areas, the drills are performed more frequently, approximately three times each semester. According to Lovelace, residential occupancy areas have a high risk for fires.

The University has encountered fire risks in the past. A fire on the fifth floor of Mason Hall in November 2012 caused 159 students to temporarily relocate due to water damage from the sprinkler system.

Preventing damage caused by arson and accidental fires, as well as ensuring student safety, is not solely the responsibility of the university’s Emergency Management or Fire Safety programs. Residential students are involved as well.

According to Briant Atkins, UMW fire safety officer, the student evacuation drills are led by students involved in the nationally recognized “Student Fire Marshal Program.” Students in the program receive training in using fire extinguishers, fire safety awareness, evacuation procedures and fire alarm system operations, according to the Emergency Management and Safety website.

A designated student fire marshal that acts as a Senior Resident Assistant is also placed in each residential hall on campus to ensure that other students will be safe if an emergency occurs.

The program benefits students as well as the fire safety officers and the emergency management and Safety program on campus.

“[We would] never get anything else done [without the group],” Lovelace said.

Providing and testing equipment, such as fire alarms, is also an important aspect of fire safety on campus. On Monday, Nov. 10, a student used a fire extinguisher to put out a grease fire at Eagle Landing.

Lovelace was relieved that the equipment and the student’s knowledge of handling an emergency situation had stopped a potentially dangerous accident.

“Who knows what the damage could have been if the fire had gone past the sprinkler system,” Lovelace said.

On Nov. 24-28 and on Dec. 8-12, the drills will not take place due to the Thanksgiving holiday and final exams. The drills will resume on Dec. 1-5 at the Stafford North, Stafford South and Dahlgren campuses and on Dec. 15-19 in Monroe Hall, the Jepson Science Center and the Heating Plant.