Invest Time in Fire Safety Training

I recently attended a fire safety conference in Columbus, OH. More than 275 people representing colleges and universities from all parts of the U.S., Canada, and Australia came together to talk about the challenges campus fire prevention programs face. A clear theme emerged — changing times. Fire safety programs have seen dramatic changes during the last year because of budgets. Fewer people, the same amount of work, and in most cases, more work, were comments heard from attendees from all geographic regions. All were optimistic that they would move through this period and were interested in sharing stores about what was being cut back on each campus and where they were focusing their efforts.

Important Areas of Focus
There were essentially three areas that campuses are currently focused on; training and education, code compliance surveys for the most at-risk areas of the campus, and training staff on new regulations such as the Fire Safety Right to Know legislation. Included with this is defining how to train and educate campus populations about mass notification systems that are now present on many college campuses and hopefully enhancing emergency situation awareness. This month the focus will be on training and education.

 A general consensus was that regardless of how dire budgets may be, it still makes sense to train staff, students, and faculty on fire safety principles in their work areas. Fire prevention training does not require large funding commitments and can be a cost savings if even small fires are prevented. Campuses are looking for online training programs that can be easily customized for their campus. For students, programs such as Flashpoint by NiFast are meeting the training needs for students that live on campus as well as off campus in Greek system housing. For staff, there are many PowerPoint-based programs to provide new-hire training to annual refresher training for all the classes of campus employees. The Center for Campus Fire Safety is a great resource for training materials for staff and student fire safety. What is nice about these two training groups is the fact that you can quickly modify the information to fit the needs of your campus.

Improving Existing Training Materials

Other schools are taking the time to go back and revamp the training materials they already have. Do current programs reflect current changes in regulations? Are they delivered in languages spoken by staff? Many fire prevention programs are now delivered in languages other than English. Teaching in a language that is more familiar helps staff better understand the fire risks in their workplace and what they should do if a fire starts while they are on campus.

Training programs are also being developed as a result of code compliance audits. As audits reveal deficiencies, trends can be found. Progressive programs then look at ways to provide training in order to reduce code deficiencies and change behaviors that led to the problem in the first place.

At the Ohio conference, one school talked about staff changes involving several departments that saw changes in top departmental leadership. Fire prevention staff took the leadership change as an opportunity to ask new leaders to review fire safety in their department. Fire prevention staff collected data specific to the department with new leadership. This included summaries of incidents and types of training or risk reduction programs that should be in place. For example, a facilities leader should see information related to incidents in shops or work sites across campus as well as inspection results and code deficiencies in shop areas. In addition, a summary of training programs for hot work, interim life safety measures when egress systems or notification systems are impaired, should be supplied to new department leaders.

Time Invested Is Money Well Spent

For all in attendance at the conference, it was clear that focusing on training is the right thing to do. Some were training other groups on campus to help ensure fire safety — a decentralization of fire prevention. Others were simply taking the time to look at ways to improve training and education. It is a topic that does not require large expenditures of funds and can actually have a measurable impact over the years. Time invested in fire prevention training activities will reduce the number of fire events, and this is ultimately measured in dollars for insurance premiums and costs to repair fire-damaged facilities.

About the Author

Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.