SAN ANTONIO – Over a four-year period, the National Fire Protection Association reports there were more than 3,800 fires at dormitories, fraternities and sororities on college campuses. Each year those fires result in about $9 million in damage, two fatalities and 30 civilian injuries.
That's why San Antonio firefighters are training local dorm resident-assistants.
As a door was thrown open, people appeared through the smoke and ran out of the darkness. Once the white fog cleared, it was easy to see these were not firefighters coming from the smoky building. They were college students. To be specific, they were RAs who oversee the dorms at St. Mary's University.
"On my first day of being an RA, I had a fire alarm go off. So I had to help everyone out, parents included, because it was moving day. So I had to help everyone out and guide them to safety, and I referred to everything I learned today," Saint Mary's RA Raelynn Morales said.
It's Morales' second year going through the fire safety training mandatory for RAs. The most intense drill is leading fellow students out of a smoky building.
"You can't see anything. It's pitch black; all you do is smell the smoke and you just have to find your way out by crawling on the ground so you can breathe," she said.
"The way we do things is find our way with our hands and make sure you know where you are and how to get to the exit of your building," said San Antonio Fire Department instructor Bennie Marberry Jr.
Marberry said in a real fire, these students would be helping his crews immensely.
"They're our first line of defense for life safety. The first thing we're thinking about when we get an alarm in a building like a dorm or a hotel, motel, apartment, our very first thought is life safety," Marberry said.
"I saved 20 people. Look at that," one RA said.
The next drill was for learning to use fire extinguishers properly. The students were taught the acronym PASS, meaning "pull" the pin, "aim" at the fire, "squeeze" the handle and "spray" at the flames. Each student had a chance to put out a fire ignited by the instructors. They were taught to back away from the fire in case it were to spark again.