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Credit: Cindy Chen

Penn has equipped all on-campus housing with fire safety sprinkler systems, and they're making that clear to everyone in University City. 

On Sept. 29, Penn’s Division of Public Safety, the Perelman Quadrangle, the Philadelphia Fire Department, and the National Fire Sprinkler Association held a side-by-side burn demonstration on Hamilton Field in an effort to raise awareness about fire safety and the importance of fire sprinkler systems. 

The demonstration, which lasted about 15 minutes, involved the burning of two dormitory style rooms while Upper Merion Chief Fire Marshal John Waters narrated the event. One of the rooms was outfitted with a sprinkler system, and the other room was not. Both rooms had smoke detectors.

The room with the sprinkler system was ignited first. Moments after the fire became large enough for the smoke detector to detect it, the sprinklers turned on and extinguished it before many items in the room could be damaged. According to Waters, the sprinklers were able to extinguish the fire well before firefighters could have arrived at the scene.

The room without the sprinkler system was set on fire next. In this case, the entire room combusted well before  firefighters would have been able to arrive, and it would have been very unlikely for anyone in that room to survive, Waters said. 

“Keep in mind, this could be your living room, your bedroom,” he said.  

After roughly 10 minutes, which was estimated to be the expected time that firefighters would arrive in real life, firefighters put out the blaze.

Penn Chief of Fire and Emergency Services Eugene Janda, who played a major role in organizing the event, hoped that the demonstration would increase University City residents’ understanding of the importance of fire safety. A similar presentation has been held in 2013, 2014 and 2016. 

“Sprinklers save lives; sprinklers protect property; sprinklers preserve processes,” Janda said. 

Janda and DPS Vice President Maureen Rush said a major purpose of the demonstration was to promote fire safety among students.

“People talk about [the side by side burn] for a very long time,” said Rush. “Maybe at the next UA meeting they say whoa, we need to discuss this.”

Despite the event’s emphasis on college student awareness, attendees were primarily non-student University City residents, event sponsors, and younger school children. Of the Penn students that did attend, more than one didn’t know about the demonstration beforehand and came to see why a crowd had gathered.

College senior Jordan Baum said he saw free food being served at the event and decided to check out what was occurring. He said he had not heard about the side-by side burn before stumbling on it on Friday. 

“I was on my way to class and it looked like an interesting event,” he said. “It was nice; they had chili.”

The chili was served by one of the event’s sponsors, Bon Appetit. Other sponsors included Penn MERT, the Philadelphia Fire Department, the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.