Fire Factor scorches dorm room, teaches safety tactics

The event is part of Campus Fire Safety Month.
Columbia resident Miranda DeCourley plays inside a Columbia Fire Department fire truck Wednesday on Lowry Mall. CFD burned a demonstration dorm room to show how quickly flames can spread as a part of its annual Fire Factor event.

Lowry Mall and Speakers Circle were set ablaze with excitement as spectators gathered to learn about fire safety and prevention at the 10th annual Fire Factor on Wednesday.

“About 10,000 people came through the event within a six-hour span,” said Lt. Shawn McCollom, assistant fire marshal to the Columbia Fire Department and liaison to MU.

Fire Factor was open to the public, with invitations extended to Columbia College and Stephens College.

The main attraction was the third annual “Live Room Burn” in Speakers Circle, where a large crowd witnessed a fire engulf an 8-by-12 foot room replica. McCollom said it burned for two minutes and 48 seconds as firefighters extinguished it.

“People really don’t realize that there is very little time to get out of a building,” McCollom said. “There is no time even to grab a cell phone. You usually have less than 30 seconds to get out of there.”

CFD Fire Marshall Steven Sapp said next year the fire department will add a second replica to the presentation with a built-in sprinkler system to extinguish the fire.

“The university has actually been working on a 15-year sprinkler system project, which is about 73 percent complete and will provide all campus buildings with sprinklers,” Sapp said.

The Fire Challenge, a timed obstacle course, included dressing in full firefighter gear, dragging a hose 50 feet and towing a 75-pound dummy to safety.

Participants also had the opportunity to extinguish a live fire with a portable fire extinguisher and take a ride 100 feet in the air in the ladder truck bucket of a fire truck. Free pizza, soda and t-shirts were available for anyone interested.

I was walking back from class and wanted to see what all the commotion was about,” sophomore Kate Doveikis said. “I didn’t even know how to use a fire extinguisher, so I definitely learned something.”

Fire Factor took place at the end of Campus Fire Safety Month. According to the website, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 3,570 structure fires in dormitories, fraternities, sororities and barracks from 2003 to 2006.

“Residential Life has done a fantastic job of banning the use of candles, smoking, etc., but students off campus and in Greek housing need to be taught proper fire safety,” McCollom said.

Sapp said cooking accidents are the leading cause of fire nationally and on campus. Students also need to be cautious of cigarettes, candles and portable heating equipment.

“They need to ensure that the place they’re going to live in is safe, especially those off-campus,” Sapp said. “Usually this is the first time students are away from home without their parents. Now they have to understand personal responsibility.”

Sapp said one of the best ways for students to practice fire safety is to have fire alarms in their residences and ensure they are working properly on a regular basis.

“Too many students ignore fire alarms and don’t take them seriously,” McCollom said. “Fires happen all the time -- more than people realize.”

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