Fire drill_Maria Hall, a set on Flickr.
ON WHAT SEEMED TO BE A CLEAR, SUNNY SUMMER MORNING at Georgian Court, all of a sudden there was commotion. And then fire trucks and medical personnel—-all in preparation for disaster on campus.
About 45 firefighters and first responders participated in a June 9 emergency drill, which simulated a residence hall fire on the second floor of Maria Hall, home to about 210 sophomores and juniors. The 9:40 a.m. general alarm drew a GCU security officer to the scene, who was unresponsive by the time firefighters arrived.
There were multiple live victims who needed oxygen and first aid, and at least one burn victim who had to be evacuated by a helicopter; two other victims were discovered unconscious in a bathroom and in a dormitory room, and one firefighter was trapped when a ceiling collapsed. This activated the FAST team rescue unit from nearby Brick—the unit that is responsible solely for rescuing fire personnel.
After 45 minutes, the “fire” was contained and everyone was removed safely from the building.
Orchestrated by the Lakewood Fire Department, “everything went according to plan,” said drill coordinator Joe Johnson, an instructor and veteran firefighter with the Lakewood F.D. “These types of hands-on live experiences really sink in.”
Veteran firefighter Bobby Cook also noted the student volunteers response to the thick smoke (generated by the Lakewood F.D.’s smoke machine) in Maria Hall.
“These were students who have been at GCU for at least 2-3 years and they really know their way around the building, but when they took three steps off the elevator, they ran into a wall of smoke. It was completely disorienting.
“We told them to get down on the floor, where the perspective changes and you can actually see. Hopefully they’ll remember some of what they learned and experienced.”
Student volunteer Ashlie Gillespie said it was definitely interesting to experience what a building full of smoke might be like. “When they tell you to get down on the floor, it’s not just so you’ll be able to breathe, but also to be able to see. It was intense. Yes, it was water-based smoke from a machine, but it still was difficult to breathe and we had symptoms—-our throats hurt, we were coughing.”
“I felt like I really learned something,” said volunteer Mercedes Contreras. “There was a sense of fear as well.”
GCU Chief of Security Tom Zambrano said the drill was also an opportunity for staff training and the scenario packed an additional twist for campus officials. In the event almost any emergency, Maria Hall is the designated command center. With the residence hall on fire, “This took us out of our centralized operations location and challenged us to respond differently.”