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They laughed as they crawled on the floor, hoods over their heads, clawing for an exit. They had just 60 seconds to escape.
"You can't breathe," Mifflin Township Fire Lt. Mark Hendricks told them. "The carpet's hot. It's melting. What are you going to do?"
"Cry?" one student said.
More laughter. But there was a sobering undercurrent to this exercise, a gravity that firefighters hoped these graduating seniors would feel. The name of the game was Get Out Alive. Only two of the four did.
In the past 13 years, 119 U.S. college students didn't make it out, Hendricks said. They were the victims of 82 fires on or near their campuses. Among those was the 2003 house fire near Ohio State University that killed five OSU and Ohio University students who'd gathered for a birthday party.
"I'm asking you: Start caring," Hendricks said.
Over the past two days, as some 240 Gahanna Lincoln seniors wrapped up their high-school careers, they walked down to Station 131 for 90 minutes of fire-safety training. The program, called "Know 2 Ways Out," offered the teens some practical emergency tips for their transition to college. They learned how to use a fire extinguisher, how to put out a grease fire and how to identify exits in a smoky room.
They got a few stern warnings, too: Don't pull fire alarms for fun. Don't ignore fire alarms. Always know at least two ways out of a house, a bar, a dorm.
Fire Chief Tim Taylor showed the students harrowing video shot at the Station nightclub in West Warwick, R.I., on the night in 2003 when pyrotechnics fired during a rock show set it ablaze. The club was engulfed in minutes. One hundred people who'd come out to listen to music died.
"It's important that you know this kind of thing happens," Taylor said.
"Know 2 Ways Out" was a new approach to a three-decade relationship between the school and department, firefighter and coordinator Chuck Wilhelm said. For years, students would sit in the bay and watch a presentation. Organizers decided there was a better way. This year seniors went through a series of hands-on stations. They performed CPR. They saw real fire. They got a little wet.
It was eye-opening for 18-year-old Connor Prusz, who discovered that there was something he didn't know about a fire extinguisher - how to use it.
"I didn't know that you had to pull the pin," he said.
Story provided by: www.dispatch.com