Eau Claire deaths spark safety talk
October 11, 2012
Two UW-Eau Claire students have died as a result of an apartment fire on Monday morning. While the UWEC campus community mourns the loss of these young students, campuses all across Wisconsin and the nation are reminded on how to prevent such tragedies during fire prevention week.
Ross Livermore, a 21-year-old from Stillwater, Minn., was killed in the fire in his upstairs apartment. Jacob Clarkson, a 22-year-old, also from Stillwater, died at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
According to a statement released by the Eau Claire Police Department, a police detective, who was on his way to work, spotted smoke coming from the building on Water Street. He went into the building to help. Two people were able to get out safely. Livermore and Clarkson were found unconscious by rescue personnel inside.
“It’s a shock to the system whenever you have a sudden event like this. It sent a ripple effect to a really close-knit community here. Our students really have a lot of close relationships and so it’s the kind of thing that we, as a university, really need to come together to support each other. We’re here to help our students and their families make it through this tragedy and to provide as much support as we can,” said UWEC Assistant Chancellor for Facilities and University Relations Mike Rindo in a released statement.
The investigation into what caused the fire is underway.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA), from 2000 to the present, 146 students have died in a combination of off-campus, residence hall and fraternity/sorority fires with the majority of campus-related fatal fires occurring in off-campus housing. According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), of those campus-related fire fatalities, 85 percent happened off campus.
Today, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of the U.S. student population lives in off-campus housing.
In an effort to reduce the incidence of on and off-campus fires, the American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) Fire Protection Practice Specialty, based out of Illinois, reminded several college students recently that fires are not like the ones shown in the movies.
For the Oct. 7-13 fire prevention week, ASSE is urging students, parents, landlords and school administrators to be aware of the fire risks and take precautions now to prevent injuries and death from fires on and off campus.
ASSE’s Fire Protection Practice Specialty (PS) group believes students must take steps now to plan and avoid these types of tragedies, such as the one in Eau Claire. The group notes that students who live on campus should always check with the residence life department for policies related to fire prevention.
Emily Metzler is a residence assistant in Crabtree Hall. She says that the biggest thing UWRF students can do to prevent fires is to observe the safety rules, such as no candles, and to be diligent when cooking or heating things in the microwave. She added that a fire in the South Forks Suites a few years ago was caused by negligence to a pizza in the oven.
She also added that every resident who lives on campus is made aware of the fire escape routes, and should always obey them. “Listen to every fire alarm,” Metzler said. “You never know if the alarm was simply set off by a burning bag of popcorn or a bigger threat that will be harder to put out.”
The ASSE adds that in addition to listening to the alarms that everyone should know and practice their fire escape route.
“Unless you have planned a fire escape route out of your dorm, apartment, home or workplace, it will be extremely difficult to see through the darkness, the dense smoke and the flames to escape,” ASSE Fire Protection Practice Specialty Group member Frank Baker said. “Plan and practice an escape route now. Also, make sure that plan includes communicating with your family, friends and co-workers where to meet following a fire to assure that everyone made it to safety.”
UWRF freshman Abby Veloske said that a fire was something she never really thought about happening on campus. However, she added that if there was a fire, she would feel that she would know how to escape and would not take anything lightly.
According to the NFPA, from 2005-2009, U.S. fire departments responded to an annual average of 3,840 structure fires in dorms, fraternities, sororities and barracks that resulted in $20.9 million in direct property damage. Cooking equipment was the number one cause of these fires followed by intentionally set fire, smoking materials, heating equipment, candles, playing with heating equipment and electrical distribution and lighting equipment.
The ASSE added that “Simple actions such as limiting the use of extension cords, and not overloading power strips or outlets can significantly reduce fire risk,” Baker noted.
“Cooking safely, avoiding open flames, never leaving cooking unattended and properly discarding smoking materials are just a few additional ways to reduce the risk of fire. Students should know where all exits are located in each building they visit, or live in as you may not be able to leave by the same pathway you normally use.”
By following these guidelines and taking extra precautions, one can only hope that other tragedies like the one in Eau Claire, can be avoided.