Staff Editorial: GW students need comprehensive fire prevention and safety training

Take a moment to consider the last time you learned anything about fire prevention and safety. It might have been during a field trip in elementary school, or a brief training for summer camp counselors. Chances are, it wasn’t during your time at GW.

This academic year, cigarettes thrown in trash cans caused two fires in Fulbright Hall – including one earlier this month. And over the past few years, we’ve seen the number of fires on campus increase. There were seven residential fires in 2014, according to the University Police Department’s Annual Security & Fire Safety Report.

Luckily, no students have been hurt or killed by fires in recent years. But fire-related fatalities in residence halls and in off-campus housing do happen, and GW isn’t immune to that possibility given how old and cramped some of its residence halls are.

Many students may have never been taught how to use a fire extinguisher. They might not know the difference between a grease fire and an electrical fire, or even how to use a gas stove. They may not know what to do if there’s a fire on the floor below them. That’s why students need to be more thoroughly trained on fire safety and prevention, whether in person, online or through a combination of the two.

Sure, the University does do a few things to prepare students for the possibility of a fire – but they’re mostly things students can easily avoid. Students receive fire safety information at meetings during Colonial Inauguration. Plus, GW sent students a newsletter last year and hosted a move-in Colonial Chat about safety, University spokesman Kurtis Hiatt said in an email.

Most of us have been woken up in the middle of the night for a fire drill at least once – but standing outside in the cold doesn’t teach anyone anything about fire prevention. Students can request trainings through GW on their own, and can read up on fire prevention and safety through the resources on the University’s website. But without an incentive or a requirement, it’s safe to assume that most students won’t seek out this information on their own.

And given most upperclassmen residence halls on GW’s campus have kitchens, there’s an even more pressing need for fire safety training. Many students will move into a room with a kitchen en suite by their sophomore year. For some, this will be the first time they cook – ever. If students want to move into rooms with kitchens, they should be required to pass a fire safety training beforehand.

As for freshmen, resident advisers could easily cover fire safety and training information in the first floor meeting of the year. While technically freshmen can’t be forced to attend, most go to that meeting anyway in order to meet other students and their RA.

During floor or building meetings on move-in day, staff “cover general fire safety information” about things like GW’s smoking ban and why metal can’t be put in a microwave, Hiatt said. But spending a few minutes talking about fire prevention isn’t enough, so RAs should go more in depth. Teaching students how to use a fire extinguisher, explaining what to do in different situations – like if there’s a fire on the floor below – and handing out a fire safety fact sheet would be simple tasks to add on to an RA’s agenda.

Obviously fire safety training isn’t the most fun thing out there – but GW could go above and beyond to make it interesting. During the annual Safety Expo, students can practice using a fire extinguisher, Hiatt said. But the University could also rent a fire simulator for the day to have students walk through and have firefighters come speak to students. While the University can’t require students to attend, it would be a great way to get the word out that fire safety is an important issue.

And that isn’t all GW should do. It also might be time to re-evaluate the smoking ban that was put in place in 2013. Both fires in Fulbright were caused by cigarettes, and the ban may be encouraging students to smoke inside. If the ban were lifted, or if the campus were at least still equipped with cigarette receptacles, students who choose to smoke could at least do so without putting other students in harm’s way.

After all, it’s in GW’s best interest to prevent fires – no matter what’s causing them. If a residence hall were to burn down, or be severely damaged, the University wouldn’t have any extra space on campus to house those students thanks to the housing crunch.

And as students, we should care about our own safety, too. Even though it doesn’t sound like much fun to sit through a fire prevention and safety training, it’s for our own good. If waking up for a fire drill is bad, a real fire would be even worse.

Fire prevention isn’t something that we think about every day, and we shouldn’t have to. But one extra training won’t hurt anyone – it can only help.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions with sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Samantha LaFrance, copy editor Brandon Lee and assistant sports editor Mark Eisenhauer.

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