Although October is National Fire Prevention Month, UT’s Fire Prevention Services (FPS) works year-round to ensure fire safety is always a priority. During the pandemic, FPS continues to offer trainings and conduct inspections and fire drills, and respond to inquiries to minimize the risk of fire that could result in loss of lives and property at the university.
Many trainings are now virtual for employees and students. For years FPS has provided free interactive fire extinguisher training with classes of 30 or more students. However, with current limitations on gatherings, FPS has developed an online training course in UT Learn, Portable Fire Extinguisher Basics, to satisfy those training requirements, said Waymon Jackson, UT’s fire marshal.
Jackson noted the particular importance of targeted student training to support residence hall safety.
“With limited fire safety staff, FPS has come to depend on resident assistants as additional eyes and ears in residence halls regarding fire related issues,” Jackson said. “FPS trains approximately 100 resident assistants on identifying restricted items in residence halls, proper operation of doors which have a locking feature that delays opening, and do’s and don’ts of using extension cords.”
FPS has implemented other training innovations as well. When the UT Lake Austin Boulevard apartments had a virtual block party for National Night Out--celebrated in October--FPS created a video on kitchen fire safety. The video included safe cooking tips as well as information on how to put out grease and oven fires and to test home smoke alarms.
Building inspections are another key FPS activity. Inspections take place daily on campus, as fire inspectors look for equipment or materials that may cause an interruption of alarms or a delay in evacuations during a fire emergency. According to Jackson, building inspections are more necessary now during the coronavirus pandemic than ever before.
“We have found fire and smoke doors propped open, which could lead to devastating consequences during a fire by allowing fire and smoke to spread,” Jackson said. “In some buildings, stairs are designated as one-way to help reduce the possibility of virus transmission. But in case of fire, it’s important to know that stairs designated for going up must be used for evacuating the building instead.”
Jackson said that although the number of fire drills are reduced at this time while fewer people are on campus, it is imperative that all occupants in UT buildings are familiar with proper evacuation procedures. FPS will be performing at least one required fire drill per building, supplemented with written information throughout the year.
For the many new building and renovation projects that started prior to the pandemic, FPS engineers continue to review construction documents. Jackson and his FPS team believe that fire prevention begins with proper design of a building or space.
“We dedicate a great deal of time ensuring buildings on campus are designed and built to the requirements of the fire and life safety codes,” Jackson said.
Additionally, FPS strives to promote fire safety awareness on a daily basis through its web content and response to questions. Jackson said that one of the most common questions Fire Prevention Services receives these days is whether it is safe to leave alcohol-based hand sanitizer in one’s vehicle, from a fire standpoint.
“Although leaving sanitizer in the car is relatively safe, over time the alcohol content will evaporate and make it less effective, especially in hot Texas weather,” Jackson said.
While FPS takes precautions to protect their staff during the pandemic, such as alternating shifts to minimize close contact between employees, business continuity takes precedence to ensure the people and property of the university are safe. During National Fire Prevention Month and year-round, FPS reminds the campus community how important fire safety is at all times.