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Campus Watch promotes fire safety

Tuesday, 30 May 2017 2:17pm

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Campus Watch’s Shane Key (right) talks about flat fire safety with (from left) Harrison Hoegh from Iowa (biochemistry), Aune Sanz from Finland (statistics and criminology), Svenja Niederkrome from Germany (teaching) and Signe Viuff from Denmark (medicine). Photo: Sharron Bennett.

The number of fires in the student area is well down this year and the Proctor’s Office is ramping up its efforts to stamp them out altogether – while also reminding students to check their smoke alarm batteries.

Fires in the student area totalled 11 between January and March, a large drop from the previous low of 31 during the same period – and there were more than 30 fires in February alone in 2013 and 2014.

University of Otago Campus Watch Team Leader Paddy Stewart says Campus Watch staff are going door-to-door in the interests of student safety to let students know:

  • The potential life-threatening, career-limiting and financial consequences of outdoor fires (New Zealand Fire Service pamphlet, the University Code of Conduct, and Otago Regional Council rules)
  • They can get free smoke alarm checks, new batteries and a fire safety check (Otago University Students’ Association Student Support Centre flyer)
  • 10 easy tips for keeping flats fire-safe (New Zealand Fire Service pamphlet)

That information is held together with a wristband bearing Campus Watch’s free 0800 number, “so at least one member of the household will have the 0800 number on their wrist”, Mr Stewart says.

Campus Watch went door-to-door in North Dunedin for the first time last year after a potentially fatal fire, when a student had to smash a window and jump from a second-storey to escape a suspicious blaze at a Castle Street flat.

The student suffered burns to both hands, tendon damage, a broken ankle and smoke inhalation. Two other flatmates’ injuries included smoke inhalation, cuts and bruises.

The media reported that firefighters discovered smoke alarms – installed by the landlord – had been put in cupboards.

So, Campus Watch staff went door-to-door to spread the message about smoke alarms, the University of Otago Students Association Student Support Centre offered free smoke alarm batteries to students, and the New Zealand Fire Service offered to check smoke alarms in student flats for free if they registered online with the Student Support Centre.

"Anything that enhances the reputation of the University and students and the fire service is a good thing."

Campus Watch decided to build on that initiative this year by going door-to-door again to include students new to flatting and remind others, because the Student Support Centre is providing “a great service, and now we’re helping to promote that.”

Mr Stewart says the information Campus Watch staff are giving students also includes the fact they can get fined for outdoor fires.

Campus Watch sees the initiative as a relationship-building project as well because it involves the Student Support Centre, the New Zealand Fire Service, and the wider North Dunedin community, as staff knock on every door.

The project has been running this month and may become an annual event because new students move into flats every year.

“Anything that enhances the reputation of the University and students and the fire service is a good thing,” Mr Stewart says.

Changing people’s attitudes should also hopefully stop non-students who come into the area thinking they can light fires in the streets, he says.

Student Support Centre Manager Sage Burke says since Campus Watch started visiting flats this year, about 30 have signed up to have the New Zealand Fire Service check their smoke alarms and provide fire safety advice.

Only about 24 flats had signed up until then, compared to last year’s strong response.

The centre would like to hear from any students whose flats do not have smoke alarms, because landlords are legally required to provide them, under the Residential Tenancies Act.