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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          NEWS SERVICES
210 Pittsboro Street, Campus Box 6210
Chapel Hill, NC  27599-6210
(919) 962-2091   FAX: (919) 962-2279


For immediate use

Aug. 11, 1997 -- No. 543

Fire safety video warns students to take fraternity tragedy seriously

UNC-CH News Services

CHAPEL HILL -- Fire fighters in heavy gear lumber across the screen.

Ominous music plays. Smoke rolls from the burned Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

And newspaper headlines are displayed, reminding viewers of fires including the May 12, 1996, Phi Gamma Delta blaze that killed five UNC-CH students.

This new video, dedicated to the memory of those lost in the fire, urges everyone at UNC-CH to take fire prevention seriously. Just completed by the UNC-CH Health and Safety Office, the video is being shown this fall to residence hall assistants and sorority and fraternity members as the university continues to guard against ever having such a disaster recur.

Health and safety officers showed the 11-minute video, “Your Link to Fire Safety,” on Aug. 5 to 156 residence hall assistants in safety training at the Frank Porter Graham Student Union, said UNC-CH Fire Safety Officer Richard Bolyard. The students also learned how to put out a real fire using a fire extinguisher and received fire safety pamphlets. The pamphlets, which condense information in the video, will be given out at orientation, Bolyard said.

Fraternity and sorority fire marshals will receive the same training at 3 p.m. Sept. 12 at the union. They also will get house fire safety and fire drill checklists, Bolyard said. The training grows out of a Chancellor's Committee on Greek Affairs recommendation last year in response to the fire. Director of Greek Affairs Ron Binder determined that the training should take place each semester, as it did last fall and spring.

“We're going to give a copy of the video to every fraternity and sorority and require them to show it each semester,” Binder said. He said the video also will be shown during fire safety training Sept. 17 by Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones for approximately 500 new members of fraternities and sororities.

Larry Johnson, fire marshal with the Chapel Hill Fire Department, will monitor first fire drills of the year in each of 33 Greek houses at UNC-CH, plus two affiliated professional fraternities.

Chapel Hill Fire officials, responsible for fire protection at UNC-CH, helped plan the video. They included Jones, Johnson and former Fire Marshal Joe Robertson.

“It's a perfect example of town and gown cooperation,” Bolyard said.

Jones said he believed the video will have a positive impact on students.

“It's short and to the point,” he said. “You'd have a hard time sitting through it without doing some personal introspection about fire safety.”

State fire prevention law requires fire drills in sorority and fraternity houses and residence halls, Johnson said. Residence assistants will share their training in upcoming hall meetings for new students and show the video when possible, Bolyard said. He said residence hall drills will be executed with the false alarms and minor cooking incidents that inevitably occur. “We monitor how well the evacuation took place,” he said.

Fire safety training is nothing new at UNC-CH.

“It's something we've done for many, many years at the beginning of the school year,” Bolyard said. But in the past, general videos were used. “We decided to produce the new video since it's specific to UNC-CH.”

Chancellor Michael Hooker states in the video, “The Phi Gamm fire taught us a tragic lesson. You cannot take fire safety for granted.”

Also new this fall is that Binder's office set up e-mail accounts and an e-mail distribution list for the Greek fire marshals.

“This will allow them to communicate with each other about safety concerns,” Binder said. “And we can post information for them,” for example, news about a residence hall fire elsewhere in the country.

Tips in the new video, mostly given or demonstrated by UNC-CH students, include not smoking in bed or tossing cigarettes or matches into trash -- the latter apparently the cause of the Phi Gamma Delta fire. No one should leave heat-producing appliances unattended, overload electric circuits, use candles in residence halls, block fire exits or prop open stairwell and other doors intended to stop the spread of fires.

The video graphically demonstrates how fast a fire can spread and how to use a fire extinguisher, and it stresses: If the fire isn't extinguished, get out. Students are warned not to tamper with fire alarms, extinguishers, fire-control doors, exit signs or sprinklers -- this is against the law and the student honor code.

Of 600 copies of the video that UNC-CH had made with the intention of sharing them with universities and fire departments elsewhere, Chapel Hill Chief Jones has 100 to distribute.

“We're sending them to agencies that called or wrote us after the Phi Gamma Delta fire asking for information about that fire and what we were doing to make sure it doesn't happen again.” he said. “They're all agencies actively seeking to prevent such a tragedy. These videos are going to be used all over the country.”

Among N.C. university towns whose fire departments Jones sent videos were Wilmington, Asheville, Greensboro, Greenville, Boone, Raleigh and Durham.

Bolyard has sent copies on requests to a national sorority office, the South Carolina Department of Labor and the National Fire Academy, part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others.

And Binder plans to show the video at the annual Association of Fraternity Advisors in San Francisco in December, to about 1,000 campus Greek advisers and representatives of national fraternity and sorority offices. He'll offer copies for sale at cost.

Because so many departments, businesses and people donated work, the video's cost to UNC-CH was minimal, about $4 or $5 per copy. In the past, UNC-CH has paid up to $75 per copy for general fire safety videos, Bolyard said.

For the new video, WNCN-TV, WRAL-TV and WLFL-TV, all of Raleigh, contributed footage of last year's fire. Horizon Video Productions, Inc., of Morrisville donated scriptwriting by David Stephenson, who obtained input from students. Andy Brawn of the UNC-CH Academic Technology and Networks Department acted as producer and director and donated editing; Richard Palmer of the UNC-CH Center for Teaching and Learning narrated.

Representatives of UNC-CH and the Chapel Hill Fire Department comprised a video planning committee that Bolyard gathered last year. UNC-CH members included Binder; Brawn; retired Dean of Students Fred Schroeder; Jane Brill, a Phi Mu sorority adviser; Al Calarco, associate director of university housing; and News Services representatives.

The video seeks to impress viewers with the importance of each person's responsibility in fire safety, Bolyard said: “If one person carelessly discards a cigarette or leaves something on or deliberately sets a fire, that one act can be devastating. What we're trying to do is be proactive about learning fire prevention, because the best thing is never to have a fire.”

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UNC-CH Fire Safety Officer Richard Bolyard, 919-962-0360.
UNC-CH Director of Greek Affairs Dr. Ron Binder, 919-962-8298.
Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones, 919-968-2781.

Contact: Laura J. Toler