Fire Chief Tim Butler

Fire Chief Tim Butler
Thanks for checking out my web log! My radio call sign in Saint Paul is "Car 1." Join me as we go "On Scene" to the fire stations, training evolutions, emergency incidents, and community events in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Let's share perspectives on the issues facing our Department, our community, and the American Fire Service!

Monday, September 3, 2012


Day 3 of Campus Fire Safety Month.

Campus Fire Safety Month is designed to inform parents, students, and school administrators about the dangers of campus-related fires, and provide information and fire prevention tips so that deadly fires don’t happen to students while attending college.

So just how deadly is a fire in a college dormitory room?  Last October, the Saint Paul Fire Department staged a “Mock Dorm Fire” demonstration for the students and staff of the University of Saint Thomas.  We built a simulated dorm room outside on the campus commons area, furnished it with a desk, bed, chairs, and other common dormitory furnishings, then lit it on fire to show just how fast and hot these fires can be!

The results were filmed by the Saint Paul Office of Technology and Communications and shared with the world on YouTube:

You can begin to see a small flame on the left side of the room about 30 seconds after we used a hot halogen lamp to ignite the window curtains.

45 seconds into the fire, the smoke alarm begins sounding.  At that point, the ceiling and floor temperatures are still low enough for survival, and the room is nearly clear of any smoke.  A sleeping college student could easily have woken up and exited the room with little chance of getting hurt.....IF the smoke detector was operating properly, as it was in this scenario.

The curtains really start to burn and grey smoke begins to boil out of the window about 1 minute, 20 seconds into the fire.  The chair ignites at 1 minute and 40 seconds.  Ceiling temperatures reach 300 degrees less than 2 minutes after the fire started and over 1,000 degrees just 30 seconds later!!  By the time the fire had been burning for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, no one in the room would have been able to survive the heat and smoke, and in just 3 minutes the room was utterly destroyed!

There were no accelerants used in the demonstration.  The “fuel” for this fire was entirely the furnishings in the room:  an ordinary wooden desk, a bed, curtains, and a two chairs.

Selecting a dorm room or student housing equipped with automatic fire sprinklers is the very best choice a family can make to protect their college student.  Automatic fire sprinkler systems are designed to control or extinguish a fire and allow occupants to safely exit the fire before the flames and heat can kill. 

Not all housing has sprinkler systems, so the next best thing – something all of us should have – is working smoke alarms (detectors) on every level of a home and in or near every sleeping area – at home AND at school.  Batteries should be fresh, and smoke alarms should be tested every month.  One thing that just JUMPED out at me during the filming of the Mock Dorm Fire was how rapidly the smoke alarm when off – well before the smoke and flames would have prevented a safe escape!  A smoke alarm that is operating well can cut your chances of dying in a fire by over 50%!  To ensure yours is in good operational condition, test it monthly, change the batteries annually, and replace it every 5-10 years (check with the manufacturer on replacement cycles; they vary with manufacturer and model).

A Mock Dorm Fire is an exciting and graphic way of showing students, parents, and school officials the rapid and deadly effects of a dormitory fire.  If you’d like to stage a similar demonstration at your college or university, contact your local fire department or school safety official.

Thank you for going “On Scene” with me today, and I hope if you are a college student or a parent of one, that your “back to school” transition goes smoothly and safely this year!

Take care and stay safe!


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