“If Not Us, Then Who?”

Sounds familiar? These are parting words from Kate’s article post-FSE day, calling for our active participation towards improving fire safety around us. As most of the IMFSE students in Ghent are currently living in student accommodation, our time to come forth arrived when the following notice came up on the bulletin boards…

Capture

It was a call for residents to volunteer as Safety Stewards which includes being guardians of fire safety within our accommodation. Jumping on the opportunity to be more involved in fire safety, Dheeraj and I signed up for the it immediately.

Our participation started with an the information session on becoming a Safety Steward and the emergency procedures at UGent. During the session, we were briefed on what are expected of us in the event of an emergency. For example, on the activation of the warning alarm, we are to investigate the source of the alarm to determine if it is a legit alarm. Something that is extremely useful seeing that false alarm has been occurring frequently in my block either due to a hot kettle in the room, a hair dryer or amazing Indian cooking that is too hot to handle… (hmmm… I wonder who was responsible for that last one…). Other than emergency situations, we were also reminded to stay vigilant in ensuring safety such as making sure fire doors such as the kitchen remained closed. Trivial as it sounds, it will matter when it matters. In the end of the session, we were handed yellow vest to identify ourselves and a torch which are used for signalling and curiously, also knocking on doors to call for residents to evacuate. (Apparently, an enthusiastic steward once came out of an evacuation exercise with bloody knuckles from excessing knocking…)

Our test came when it was time for an announced evacuation. Of course, all residents were informed beforehand of the drill but it was good to see most residents especially IMFSE students participating in it. As we were shepherding people to the evacuation point, I was thinking of all the aspects of human behavior during evacuation we learnt in Lund: social influence as people want to look cool while evacuating by moving with swag, affiliation theory where people tend to wait for their friends and evacuate together as a group… it was like watching a real life human behavior experiment. However, the role-rule model came in handy as armed with our bright yellow jackets and flashlights, residents followed our cue to evacuate and rightly consulted us for information on where to gather. In fact, in the debrief, we were told that it was a record evacuation time for our accommodation though this was mainly due to overwhelming number of safety stewards in attendance. I guess that 100 euro award came in handy. Enrico mentioned in the forum on FSE-day that one way to get people more involved in fire safety is to provide incentive rather than penalties. Although it is sad to see that fire safety being “bought” in order to gain attention, I guess this is a sign that it may work after all!!!

Our training as safety stewards wrapped up with a first aid and firefighting course conducted by Mobiele Blusopleidingen which literally came to our hostel in a van equipped with a fire fighting training facility. Trainer Sam de Vos taught us how to use the fire extinguisher when there is a room on fire including the steps on how to check and enter the room safetly as well as the use of fire blankets for fires in kitchens. It was not only interesting to learn these simple and practical knowledge on fire fighting as I was also amazed at how interested other non-fire students attending the course are in learning more about fire and what to do in case of one. I was great to know we are not in this fight against fire on our own!!! The night ended with a first aid course which may come in handy especially since we stay near Overpoort, a.k.a Ghent’s party central (though any mouth-to-mouth action have to be carefully thought through). With that, we are officially safety stewards of Home Groningen!!

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