Campus fire safety seminar tells The Alarming Truth

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Since 2000, four out of five campus-related fire deaths in America have occurred off campus, often when students disabled smoke alarms, were careless with cigarettes, did not have adequate emergency exits, or a combination of all three.

In an effort to reduce the incidence of campus-related fires, Rowan hosted a seminar July 31 in conjunction with a nationwide rollout of The Alarming Truth, a short film created this year by Radio, Television & Film students depicting an off-campus fire tragedy in Philadelphia.

The film, made in cooperation with the Clery Center for Campus Security in Wayne, Pa., Campus Firewatch and the Michael H. Minger Foundation and funded with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, was created for use in fire education programs at colleges and universities across the U.S.

Leading the two-hour seminar, Abigail Boyer, assistant executive director for the Clery Center, said the film, shot last winter and spring, is effective because it was made by students, for students.

“Working with students you learn very quickly that you can’t cram every bit of information into a short film,” Boyer said. “In fact, it was the students who told us we had to keep the film short, under ten minutes, in order to keep students’ attention.”

Indeed, as The Alarming Truth played on a wide professional screen in the Bozorth Hall auditorium, no one’s attention was lost. Told out of sequence, the film portrays the story of four college students, two men, two women, socializing in an off-campus apartment. A fire begins after a student drops a lit cigarette in a plastic Solo cup where it smolders, then ignites, hours later, leading to a student’s death.

Attending the seminar – one of seven this summer across America – were some two dozen higher education and public safety officials from as far away as Washington, D.C.

Attendees received a screening guide for The Alarming Truth, advice and sample materials for fire safety sessions to hold on their own.

Attending the seminar, Glassboro Fire Chief Steve Smith said there have been no serious fire-related injuries to Rowan students, on-campus or off, in the 13 years he’s been with the department, but he said the growing number of off-campus rental units can be concerning.

“For the first time in their lives, students are on their own, away from their parents, and there’s not as much regulation (for off-campus housing) as there is on-campus,” he said.

The most important things students can do, he said, is to be mindful of fire safety, careful with hazards like smoking and cooking, and vigilant that smoke detectors are properly installed and working.

For more information, please view The Alarming Truth and/or visit the Clery Center online.