This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
Fire Video Targets
College Students
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: Oct. 9, 1998

EAU CLAIRE — The family and friends of a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student who was killed in a house fire several years ago are doing their part to help other college students avoid a similar fate.
Brad Olson's parents and friends are among those featured in a video that the Eau Claire Fire Department and UW-Eau Claire administrators hope will educate college students about the dangers of fire, how to prevent fire and what they should do if they are in a fire.
"Fire safety continues to be an issue for college students across the country," said Bruce Fuerbringer, deputy chief of the Eau Claire Fire Department. "We hope this program will help address some of the needs. This video has real-life characters in it. The parents and friends of students who have died in fires talk about it. It hits home. It's not done in a preachy way — we tried to use a contemporary format to address these issues."
Many college students living away from home for the first time do not have the experience of being responsible for their own physical safety, Fuerbringer said of special fire safety concerns for university students.
"For the first time, they are responsible for their own health and safety and the health and safety of others by their actions," Fuerbringer said. "For example, at home a parent or an older sibling who has had more life experiences may tell them not to have all those candles burning in their room. But when they're on their own, they have to be aware on their own to blow out a candle before going to class or to not fall asleep while smoking a cigarette."
In addition to Olson's parents and friends, the 16-minute video includes comments from Fuerbringer, and other UW-Eau Claire students and administrators. It also features families and friends of five students killed in a fraternity house fire at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"When you do this kind of work, it leaves a lasting impression on you," Robert Shaw, associate dean of students at UW-Eau Claire, said of helping families deal with student tragedies. "You don't just shake it off. When you go through it, you try to find ways to help others learn from it so it doesn't happen again."
When Olson, a 22-year-old UW-Eau Claire student, died while trapped in an upstairs bedroom during a fire in his off-campus house, Shaw and Olson's family looked for a way to help others learn from the tragedy, Shaw said, noting that the smoke detector in Olson's house did not work.
"We try not to lose a teachable moment," Shaw said. "Most people do not think about their physical safety from fire — whether they are living in a residence hall or in an off-campus house. But we have had near misses on and off campus from fire. Fire safety is an issue in student life, but it's seldom thought about or talked about.
"But fire risks are very real. Fires happen, and students need to be reminded that they are not immortal."
The Eau Claire Fire Department had a similar reaction, which prompted them to explore ways to share fire safety information with university students, Fuerbringer said. A $78,000 grant from the U.S. Fire Administration enabled UW-Eau Claire to work with fire experts, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Olson's family and friends of fire victims to create a video that can be used to educate students nationwide.
"We wanted to create a film with practical information — a film that was usable and had appeal to the students we were targeting," Shaw said.
Among the ways they tried to capture students' attention was by dealing directly with alcohol issues and how they connect to fire dangers, Shaw said. "We were adamant that we had to deal with alcohol because it is a part of student life," he said.
The video uses scenes from parties to show how fires can start in those situations and goes through strategies that can be used to avoid fire disasters. For example, the fire department encourages students who host a party to designate ahead of time one person who will walk through the house during the event and when the party ends to ensure candles are blown out and cigarettes are properly extinguished. They also tell students what to do should they be in a fire.
"The students would not pay attention if we just told them these things," Shaw said. "But if they see people who look like themselves, party scenes that look like parties they've been at, with students doing things that they have done, then that's something that they hopefully will take with them and keep with them.
"Prevention is hit in the film, but there is also a very powerful survival message here."
Many of the scenes in the video, such as the party scenes, were taped at UW-Eau Claire and in off-campus houses, Shaw said, adding that Eau Claire-based Televideo made the video. Other scenes were shot at campuses across the country.
The video has been shown to groups of UW-Eau Claire students as well as campus housing officials. Another grant has been submitted for additional monies to do a nationwide distribution of the video, Fuerbringer said.
"It's very powerful," Shaw said of the video. "The first time we showed it to our students, when it ended it was two minutes before anyone said a word. When they did talk they said things like they were going home to check on the batteries in their smoke alarms or that from now on they were going to have someone watch for fire hazards during a party."
Landlords or anyone else interested in the video should contact the Eau Claire Fire Department or UW-Eau Claire's Dean of Students office.

UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: Oct. 9, 1998