New fire marshal heads safety, education initiatives
Published: Friday, October 26, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 26, 2012 01:10
Since his appointment in August, Fire Marshal and Fire Prevention Officer John Walsh has taken considerable strides to improve fire safety on campus and nurture a better understanding of how his office operates.
Walsh said he has begun taking inventory of the Medford/Somerville, Boston and Grafton campuses and inspecting the preparedness of each. He has used his time at Tufts so far to emphasize the importance of fire and life safety systems such as sprinklers, smoke alarms and exit signage.
The Fire Marshal’s office is an extension of the Tufts Environmental and Health Safety office (TEHS), which is based in the Department of Public and Environmental Safety (DPES). The office is charged with ensuring the safety of members of the Tufts community as well as monitoring the fire and life safety systems for all three campuses.
A recently retired fire chief in Cumberland, Rhode Island and seasoned fire safety agent, Walsh has worked with several colleges as a member of their fire safety teams.
Stephen Larson, director of TEHS, elaborated on Walsh’s duties as fire marshal.
“The primary initiative for [Walsh] when he came to Tufts was to look at the fire safety program as he found it and establish priorities in terms of programs, goals and objectives,” Larson said.
By working with Director of Public and Environmental Safety Kevin Maguire, Larson said that he and Walsh have identified 17 different areas that need to be addressed concerning the fire safety program at Tufts, including fire education and adequate inspection of properties.
“He [Walsh] has been here for three months, that’s not a long enough time to evaluate a university on three campuses, but we’re in the process of deciding the priorities and how they’ll be addressed moving forward,” Larson said. “This period of time is one of analysis and planning.”
Walsh said he has made it a point to visit and inspect all of Tufts’ undergraduate and graduate school facilities and increase the visibility of fire safety awareness programs. With the addition of new laboratories on the Boston campus, along with the facilities at 200 Boston Ave. in Medford, a major concern for the office is the fire safety of lab and research spaces.
“When it comes to fire safety and the labs, we do inspections, and [TEHS] has principle investigators who do lab specifications,” Walsh said.
Assistant Fire Marshal Richard Mullane explained that Walsh’s increased involvement in lab spaces has set a precedent for the rest of the office.
“We’re going to get more involved doing the lab inspections,” Mullane said. “The office will work more closely with the primary investigators and all the safety equipment they have to wear when working with chemicals.”
Larson stressed the significance of fire safety in student housing.
“We don’t want anyone hurt in a fire at Tufts,” he said. “That means making sure the fire exits are clear, bikes aren’t blocking doors and systems are working.”
According to Larson, the Fire Marshal’s office focuses heavily on fire prevention instead of fire response, which is handled by the Medford, Somerville, Boston and Grafton Fire Departments.
“Our big thing now is working on the website, educating the students a bit more on fire safety in the dorms and the wood−frame houses they’re living in,” Mullane said. “Some of these wood−framed houses, even though they’re [equipped with] sprinklers, can be dangerous.”
So far, according to Walsh, fire drills and preparedness drills in the academic and residential buildings have been successful.
However, there are also many alarms set off by smoke in residential and academic buildings, often the result of a cooking effort gone awry, he said. Walsh noted that since the beginning of the academic year, there have been 12 instances of fire alarms activated by cooking−related incidents, including two that occurred in the last week.
This level of frequency can lead to fire alarm apathy, Walsh said, a dangerous side effect that can cost someone their life.
“It creates a crying wolf effect — when fire alarms were new, like car alarms, it was like, ‘What’s that?’” he said. “Now you get desensitized; it happens with fire alarms.”
Mullane admitted that since the beginning of this academic year, there have been more fire alarms and smoke alarms going off than usual.
“We’re getting more this year than we had in three−fourths of last year, alone,” Mullane said. “We’re in the process of posting all the kitchens with signs explaining what to do when they’re cooking. Maybe that’ll help.”