The safety of the Principia could be endangered by the girl down the hall setting the mood with illegal candles, those freshman boys setting off firecrackers behind Rackham, or a quesadilla being left on the grill too long. Not to worry, the College’s Fire Brigade will come to the rescue and put out any offending fire.
Most college or university campuses are near enough to a local fire department. With the more isolated campus and smaller student body of Principia, there is student-run Fire Brigade right on campus, with the training and skills to put out multiple types of fires.
Beginning in the 1930s, the College had some firefighting ability because of the lack of a local fire department, and ran operations out of the old firehouse located across from Rackham. The current Fire Brigade was established in the fall of 2013 when the fire truck and equipment were moved to their very own building near facilities and Hexburg.
The reincarnation of Fire Brigade has been headed and supervised by Arno List, who has directed life safety codes and systems for the facilities department since the early 1990s. The term “brigade” relates specifically to the standards set out by the National Fire Protection Association for an industrial fire brigade – NFPA 600 – to which the College’s Fire Brigade is most similar.
For the purpose of serving Principia College, List has organized the Fire Brigade into two elements: student and staff. The student element provides students with the opportunity to learn about fire protection, work and practice with standard firefighting equipment, and provide some protection to the campus in the case of a fire. The staff element consists mostly of employees working in facilities who learn the basic early protection for fire. List hopes to develop the staff element by creating more opportunities for the faculty and staff to learn the basics, but has been hindered by availability of time.
During the dry seasons, the Fire Brigade also offers support and backup to the biology department during prairie burns by maintaining equipment and cleaning up afterwards to make sure that hot spots don’t catch flame again.
List described the four main concepts of Fire Brigade: understanding the physical and chemical aspects of fire; learning when to use which tools, based on chemistry; drilling and rehearsing; and gaining a unique and rare experience applicable outside of Principia, ranging from basic fire extinguisher knowledge to a career path in fighting fires.
When asked why he participates in Fire Brigade, junior Galen Collins answered, “It’s a lot of fun. I gain knowledge that will be helpful to me further on in my career, and I really enjoy the people.” What is this fun that he talks about? Well, besides learning how to start fires and different ways to put them out, the Fire Brigade is significant because it is well-supplied with various pieces of firefighting equipment. The firehouse houses a Ford F-350 truck with a KME mini-pumper that can hold 450 gallons of water and pump up to 500 gallons per minute. It also houses a four-wheel drive utility vehicle that can transport a trailer or skid unit and the Argo, which is a six-person, eight-wheel drive amphibious vehicle meant for rugged terrain. For instances like the prairie fires, there are also five-gallon backpacks that can shoot a steady stream of water, as well as shovels, rakes and fire brooms.
Senior Marshall McCurties was asked which superhero to which he would compare the Fire Brigade. “I would compare it to Frozone from ‘The Incredibles.’” Frozone is a character forgotten during most of the film’s plot, but ends up playing a crucial role in saving the city.
Besides learning how to be almost as cool as Frozone, the Fire Brigade provides a fun, educational opportunity.