Mock residence hall room goes up in flames at Speakers Circle

The Columbia Fire Department put on a show to educate students on fire risks on campus.
Debris flies as the Columbia Fire Department extinguishes a fire in a mock residence hall room Wednesday at Speakers Circle. Fire Factor is a running tribute to former MU student Dominic Passantino, who lost his life in a fire in 1999.

An estimated 500 students were on hand Wednesday to watch the Columbia Fire Department conduct its live room burn at the 11th annual Fire Factor held in Speakers Circle.

Starting off the event and grabbing students’ attention with a dramatic bang, firefighters set a mock dorm room ablaze in Speakers Circle. Flames immediately engulfed the room, which took a mere 2 minutes and 54 seconds before needing to be extinguished.

“I was really struck by the quickness at which the fire grew from a small, controllable ember to a searing force of anarchy blazing through the entire room,” sophomore Steven Boraas said.

After the room was reduced to smoldering ruin, students were free to attend other fire safety events throughout Lowry Mall. Opportunities included free pizza and soda, a chance to learn how to operate a fire extinguisher, a firefighter’s obstacle course and a chance to talk with CFD firefighters.

“The main goal today is interaction,” CFD Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said. “We don’t get a lot of chances to interact with kids once they get out of grade school. So this is a good way to interact with people who are out on their own for the first time and might not be thinking about fire safety because somebody has taken care of it for them in the past.”

Started in 1999, this is the 11th year Fire Factor has been on the MU campus. It is a running tribute to Dominic Passantino, who lost his life to a fire that same year.

“On May 8, 1999, Dominic Passantino lost his life in a fire in a fraternity house on South College Avenue,” Sapp said. “It was a fire caused by an unattended candle. It was one of the first fire fatalities that we had in Columbia, let alone on campus, and it affected the entire student population. In his memory we have made an effort to really push fire safety.”

Sapp said the leading causes of fires in residence hall rooms are candles. They also typically see cooking accidents and discarded smoking materials that cause fires.

CFD Assistant Fire Marshal Lt. Shawn McCollom said there are several parts of residence hall life conducive to fires that students often overlook.

“Don’t overload outlets in your room, meaning don’t have the same extension cord in the wall where you’re plugging in five or six different things to one outlet,” he said. “That tends to overheat the wires and can cause a fire. Pay attention to what you’re doing. General housekeeping can go a long way in preventing fires.”

The importance of having smoke detectors at home was a recurring concept throughout the entire event.

“I learned the importance of smoke detectors in all homes and rooms because they buy you time,” Boraas said. “They’re so inexpensive yet I was amazed at how quickly they can pick up the smoke in a room. I couldn’t even see the smoke (during the live room burn) and the alarm was already going off.”

Other students said they now have a clearer picture of the importance of practicing fire safety.

“We never know when or where a fire is going to start,” sophomore Victoria Goodwin said. “Being prepared and aware of fire safety is the one thing everyone can control.”

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