Photo courtesy of Carol Schiller

By: Kate Rogers, Staff Writer

“I think when students leave home there’s a false sense of security that someone’s looking out for them, but that’s not the case…You’re on your own, you gotta make sure your smoke alarms work, your exits are not blocked,” said Carol Schiller of Portland. With the anniversary of a tragic Portland fire just around the corner, the city will be celebrating fire prevention week at the end of October. The Portland fire department encourages USM students and other Portland residents to be aware and vigilant about fire safety.  

A month ago on August 20th, a fire destroyed the home at 117 Dartmouth St. in

Portland. This is second fire in the surrounding Oakdale neighborhood since the Noyes Street fire, which took the lives of six people  in November, 2014. This neighborhood is just a few blocks down from USM’s Portland campus, and is home to a lot of student housing.

Carol Schiller is a neighboring resident who witnessed both fires. After the Dartmouth Street fire she reached out to the Phi Mu Delta Fraternity who she has had a community partnership with for five years and Ashley Summers, an activist who lost her husband in the Noyes Street fire. Together they built a festival with the American Red Cross, the Maine Medical Center Burn Unit, The Portland Fire Department and The Portland Professional Fire Fighters Local 740 Union. Monday night the Portland City Council issued a proclamation recognizing fire prevention week as the theme for 2017, “Every second counts, find two ways out,” in honor of the victims of the 2014 Noyes Street fire. Portland will be holding their first Halloween Fire Prevention Festival on Saturday, October 28th.

The festival will feature games, face painting, a kids costume parade, and many tables with resources and information on fire prevention and safety. The Phi Mu Delta Fraternity will be helping in all aspects of the event. “I honestly can’t say enough about USM Phi Mu Delta Fraternity organization and their commitment to helping others,” Schiller said.

“We are hoping this event will prevent a future fire, that it will potentially save lives, and will prevent anyone from being hurt in a fire in our neighborhood and across the city,” Schiller said.

“Here’s a good opportunity to take a holiday that for most is a fun thing, Halloween, but tie in this flavor of doing some fire prevention education,” Chief David Jackson of the Portland Fire Department said. “It’s a good opportunity to keep working at never forgetting but getting some positive messages out so we can try and prevent.”

John Reed, the director of the Environmental Health and Safety Office at USM will be there with students trained in fire safety to educate people on fire safety in dorms specifically. According to Jackson, there have been many dorm fires that have killed students across the country in the past few years. It is imperative that students living both in dorms and in off-campus housing know how to keep themselves and others safe in case of a fire.

Landlords and building owners in Portland are stepping up and making sure their buildings are safe, according to Sergeant John Brennan. “We’re working pretty hand in hand diligently with building owners,” Jackson said. However, it is important for tenants to be responsible and make sure they have the proper smoke alarms and escape routes.

According to the fire code used in Portland, a smoke alarm is required in every room used for sleeping and one directly outside the rooms. This is so that occupants have fair warning if their doors are shut and the smoke has not yet reached them. There also needs to be a carbon monoxide alarm somewhere in the home.

It’s imperative to keep your smoke alarms active and working. If the alarm goes off and there is no fire, there may be a Carbon Monoxide leak. “There’s a reason why…they’re very annoying and loud. Because they need to wake you up. The largest loss of life is when people are asleep in a building and a fire starts and they don’t have their early warning,” Jackson said.

The second and equally important requirement is that there must be two ways out of the building. One way can be the main entrance. The other can be a window that is large enough to get out of and down to the ground, or a back staircase. If the window is too high, there needs to be a staircase or a ladder. Any staircases that will be used as an escape route cannot be used for any kind of storage because of tripping hazard. “That’s something that we are very strict and adamant on,” said Brennan.

Tenants can and should talk to their landlords about safety concerns. If they are still not satisfied, they can call the fire department to come and inspect their living space if they are concerned they do not have up to code living spaces.

The three major fire hazards according to Jackson are the kitchen and cooking, electrical safety and heat sources. Preventing a fire from happening can be as simple as setting a timer for your food, not leaving your hair straightener on or being careful not to put lamps and heaters next to combustible materials like clothing and furniture.

If a fire does happen, the first thing that the fire department recommends is to call 911, even if it is a small fire that seems like it can be handled. “There have been times where people delay calling us…meanwhile that small fire that started in a trashcan has taken the kitchen, the living room, maybe heads down the hallway,” said Brennan. Also, you should never go back into a house you’ve left after a fire has started. According to Jackson, a fire doubles in size every 30 seconds. The safest option is to call as soon as the fire starts and then get out of the building.

Tragedies like Noyes street are nothing new to Portland. In 1866 there was a fire that destroyed nearly half the city. Schiller said “That’s why the city is named Phoenix, the city that rises from the ashes.” But through the efforts of not only the fire department but also citizens and universities, the proper safety education can be spread and these incidents can be avoided.

“A lot of people still think it can’t happen to them…it can,” Jackson said. Those interested in learning more about fire safety and education can attend the Fire Prevention Festival from 12:30 to 3:00 PM on October 28th at Longfellow Park.


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