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Fires raise concern about emergency preparedness among college students

Posted by Roy Greene  February 10, 2012 02:36 PM

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(Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff)

This house on Linden Street sustained widespread damage from the fire Jan. 22.

The Boston University student who leapt out of a second-floor window to escape a raging fire in Allston on Jan. 22 was discharged from the hospital on Feb. 6 and admitted into a rehabilitation center, according to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

The student, Josh Goldberg, had suffered major head injuries during his escape. The two-alarm fire at 7 a.m. gutted the building at 84 Linden St. that housed members of BU's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. Six other students were briefly hospitalized, but Goldberg was admitted in critical condition.

Only a week earlier, on Jan. 16, a four-alarm fire on 1471 Beacon St. badly damaged the apartment building and displaced many of its occupants.

Brookline Fire Chief Paul Ford said of the Beacon Street fire: “No conclusive reason for the fire has been determined, but the origin was in the basement.” Ford added: “Two firefighters had minor injuries and one female occupant was taken to the hospital.”

The two major fires caused injuries, threatened and impacted student life, and raised serious questions about whether some students and young adults are sufficiently informed about fire safety.

Students living in off-campus residences in nearby communities may be unaware of general and state fire regulations. Fire prevention and service groups throughout the neighborhood and state want to inform young adults and students about safety precautions.

Public Education Manager Jennifer Mieth from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services said her agency wants to ensure that young adults know fire precautions so they can “practice it for the rest of their lives.”

“Here in Massachusetts, we teach students, starting as young as kindergarten all the way to high school about basic fire safety,” she said. However, “College students come from all across the country, so we don’t know what education they have received.”

Massachusetts law requires an apartment to have at least one smoke and carbon monoxide detectors outside of each bedroom and on every level as well as fire alarms in each common hallway that are hardwired to go off at the same time.

“People have to make sure their smoke detectors are working because studies show when you’re asleep, your sense of smell is too,” she said. “When you wake up, you have one to three minutes to escape before consumed by toxic smoke, so that is not a lot of time.”

Mieth, who has worked for the state marshal for 28 years, noted that there are two online resources -- the Center for Campus Fire Safety and the Campus Fire Watch -- for students to learn more about fire safety especially when living in off-campus housing or apartments.

Mark Jefferson, deputy chief of fire prevention in Brookline, said that smoke and monoxide detectors are the best protection as well as fire extinguishers as a “valuable tool.”

“A lot of student aren’t aware of safety regulations and are unused to checking the detectors by themselves since many have never lived away from home,” he said. “By just pressing the test button, you can hear a sound to ensure that they are working.”

Jefferson said that creating a two-part evacuation plan is essential to fire safety by finding two ways out of a building through the stairs or fire escape and then establishing a meeting place once out of the residence.

Steph Hardy, a sophomore majoring in Sociology at BU’s College of Arts and Sciences, recently moved into on-campus housing on Beacon Street and admits to “not being well-informed” about fire safety in her apartment. Although she was unaware of the Beacon Street fire, Hardy said she wants to learn how her alarms work and what they sound like in order to know if she will hear it from her room during a fire.

Hardy said “it is only fair” for the University to take greater responsible for explaining fire safety to all its student.

This story was published under an agreement between Boston University and the Boston Globe.

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