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Forgotten fire safety poses danger

BY MEGAN SANCHEZ | NOVEMBER 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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When the fire alarm goes off, most people leave the building. However, University of Iowa officials have found faculty members, at times, ignore the need to comply with protocol.

UI emergency-management coordinator Shawn Sharp said he has witnessed faculty and staff ignore a fire alarm because they think “it’s just a drill.”

“When the alarm goes off, people won’t even get up from their desks,” he said. “They just keep working. That’s something I would like to raise everyone’s awareness on.”

UI College of Pharmacy Assistant Dean Amber Seaton said although she believes her staff does not fit this stereotype, she knows they are not all as educated as they should be on crisis evacuation.

“We are not very well-prepared,” she said. “We are in an old building, and we don’t have a good idea of evacuation routes. I don’t think anyone in this building would be 100 percent positive of what to do [in a dangerous situation] and how to get out safely.”

The pharmacy school will receive training from Sharp and UI fire safety coordinator Bruce McAvoy over the next year, starting in two months. They will also receive education on other dangerous situations, such as building shootings or tornadoes.

Sharp said he hopes the training is a wake-up call and a reminder to staff to take these alarms seriously. He wants to implement floor leaders and head-count systems to better regulate emergencies when they happen.

Iowa City Fire Chief John Grier said he notices education ceases after the elementary-school level. He wants to change that by providing more information to high_school level students in the Iowa City School District.

He also said he agrees being complacent is not the right answer.

“Anytime you hear the fire alarm, you need to treat it as a true incident,” he said. “You don’t know if it’s going to be that time when leaving 30 seconds earlier makes the difference.”

Although officials said ignoring alarms poses a threat, UI junior Bobby Hanaford said he is not surprised faculty fail to leave the building.

“I feel like people don’t [take the alarms seriously,]”he said. “To change that, I think talking about it — that’s the first step.”

McAvoy said people may feel compelled to ignore alarms, because they may be “false,” in a situation of burnt popcorn or dust spread. However, he wants people to recognize these “false alarms” are proof the alarms are working.

“All of those the detection devices are doing their job,” he said. “They are sensing what they believe is smoke.”

Seaton said she believes other UI departments will follow the pharmacy school’s lead in educating staff. She wants to remind people of the risks and realities of danger.

“It’s not really a matter of if something will happen, it’s a matter of when,” she said. “It’s being as prepared as possible. I ‘ve talked to other administrators, and we all have kind of the same fear that it is just such a big nut to crack. It feels like you can keep putting it off until tomorrow, but we’ve had those conversations that it is really important to do.”


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