Safety department develops new emergency-simulation lab to prepare students for workforce

Janelle Wilson, Asst. Campus Life Editor
September 4, 2014

The safety management department developed a new Emergency Preparedness and Fire Protection Center (EPFPC) this semester to teach students how to use advanced safety technology they will encounter in their careers.

Safety department head, Joe Cali credits the careful saving and wise use of department money to developing the new center. After pairing with Fire Fighter Sales and Service and getting a 50 percent reduction from the original $60,000 cost of the center, the department spent $30,000 to make the technology in the lab as up-to-date and efficient as possible.

Cali said that SRU is the first of other local universities to utilize a hands-on center such as the EPFPC. The lab will be used during the second half of the semester in James Culligan’s Comprehensive Emergency Management and Fire Services class to prepare students to respond to different types of emergencies.

“We needed to develop this center ASAP because it is critical to educate and familiarize our students with new technologies before they encounter them on the field,” Culligan said.

The center is made up of three rooms; the first is dedicated to different types of fire sprinkler systems and alarms. The second room is equipped with a mass notification system that includes a computer monitor students can use to isolate potential emergencies on-campus and work to resolve them. A commercial kitchen stove used to simulate grease fires is also located in this room, along with two types of fire extinguishers that students can practice with.

The third room contains a Very Early Smoke Detection Apparatus (VESDA) fire detecting system, which is used to protect expensive equipment. When a VESDA alarm goes off, the responder is allowed to make the decision to either set off the sprinkler system or not. In the event of a fire, the responder would set off the sprinkler, but in the event of a machine simply overheating and smoking, the responder could save the machine by not setting off the sprinkler and avoiding unnecessary water damage. Culligan said that the third room is especially relevant in preparing students to work in hospitals, where expensive machines such as MRIs are at risk of being damaged.

In the past five years, the safety management major has increased by 35 percent, and the department now has 400 students. Culligan said that with the escalation of enrollment into the major, it is essential that all of the safety students are trained and have hands-on experience in resolving emergencies.

“Safety professionals wear a lot of different hats,” Culligan said, “but no matter what specific field they’re in, be it working in a hospital, or at any company, everyone must be prepared to respond calmly and effectively to emergencies.”

President of the SRU chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers and senior safety management major, Angie Buchowski, 20, said that at her internship with Georgia-Pacific, she ran into unfamiliar equipment that she wished she’d seen before.

“It’s great that students are finally being given a chance to get hands-on experience that will prepare them for their jobs,” Buchowski said.

Culligan’s ultimate goal for the lab is for students to be familiar with and confident in using the new equipment. Though he predicts his students will approach the new equipment with hesitation at first, he said that eventually working with it will become second nature to them.

“Preparation is key in resolving any emergency,” Culligan said. “Preparing our students to respond effectively to emergencies is half the battle. You don’t want to wait for an emergency to happen to understand how to tackle it.”

Buchowski said that at her internship she learned that investigating even the smallest safety infractions is integral to managing safety for any company.

“Big things come from seemingly small issues, and when people’s lives are at stake, it’s important that everyone is prepared and familiar with handling any type of emergency,” Buchowski said.

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