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Fire incident causes concern

April 24, 2008

A fire April 5 at UW-Stout that killed three students at an off-campus housing complex brings the importance of fire safety at UW-River Falls to light.

It is important for students to know their surroundings and be prepared in case of a fire in their residence.

“I think it is really important that a person be aware of what evacuation routes they have,” Director of Public Safety Richard Trende said.

Smoke detectors should be checked monthly to make sure they are working correctly. Trende said that he recommends contacting your landlord if your smoke detector is not working.

“[Public safety] has had cases of having to go in and wake someone because the smoke alarms were off,” Trende said.

Trende said that it can be disorienting when a room fills with smoke. That is why it is important to plan out evacuation routes.

“Don’t sleep in a room that you don’t have two ways out of,” River Falls Fire Chief Tom Schwalen said. “Rooms should have two ways out.”

There are preventative measures that can be taken to lessen the chance of a fire.

“Think through the process of potential emergencies so you are prepared,” Trende said.

Most rental housing complexes have fire extinguishers and smoke detectors. Some are also equipped with sprinkler systems and fire alarm pull stations, Schwalen said.

“I have a sprinkler system that goes all over the place,” senior John Carroll said. “I also have renter’s insurance just in case.”

The most common cause of a fire alarm, both in on-campus housing and off-campus housing, is burnt food, according to the River Falls Fire Department records.

“Most of what we’ve had are accidental set-offs like burnt popcorn,” Trende said.

The problem is that residents often try to cook food too fast or walk away from the stove after they start cooking the food.

“Kids come home from partying and put food in the oven and then fall asleep,” Schwalen said.

Overloading electrical outlets and extension cords can also cause fires. Schwalen also recommends not running extension cords under carpeting.

“The biggest issue with fires is making sure that outlets and electrical appliances are safe and that there is not a risk of shorts,” Trende said. “Don’t overload plug-ins.”

The use of candles is another common cause of house fires. Schwalen said to not leave candles unattended, and put them out before you go to sleep.

“I personally don’t like candles,” Schwalen said. “I’ve seen too many fires started by candles left in a room.”

Smokers are encouraged to use metal ashtrays for cigarette butts. Cigarettes can melt through plastic ashtrays and cause a fire,” Schwalen said.

Trende said that the he is impressed with the fire departments response to alarms and their professionalism.

“They always respond like it’s real,” Trende said. “That one time you don’t, it could be real.”