English department launches student awareness campaign

As thousands of students prepare to live away from home for the first time, Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service is launching a pioneering and innovative campaign to inform students of the dangers of too much alcohol and fire.

The Service is working closely with local universities and colleges to promote the message ‘Before You Pull Tonight Make Sure You Have Protection.’ The campaign includes a specially commissioned online ‘viral marketing’ presentation which will be promoted both here and in the United States through fire officials and academic staff who already have strong links with colleagues in Cheshire.

Fire crews will be using the month-long campaign to promote the protection which their free smoke alarms can provide, while education officials will be using the message to highlight the dangers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from having unprotected sex.

The initiative is being launched by University of Chester students at 0900 hrs on the 9th September under the Eastgate Clock in Chester city centre–highlighting the ‘999’ emergency number. The Service’s link-up up with colleagues in America will be highlighted by the launch of the National Campus Fire Safety Month, on Capitol Hill, Washington, on the same day.

The U.S. launch will be attended by friends and relatives of some of the 18 American students killed in fires during the 2007/8 academic year alone. In the U.K., smoking materials and candles have been the cause of 1,900 student injuries over the past five years, while research also shows that students put themselves at risk when they come home from a night out after drinking and prepare a midnight feast.

Steve McGuirk, Chief Fire Officer at Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service said: “Families all over the world are currently saying goodbye to young people going away to university and college and living on their own for the first time.

“That’s why we are delighted to be working with colleagues from America to highlight that while student life offers some great opportunities, young people need to be aware of obvious risks so they can stay safe.”

Chapel Hilll (NC) Fire Chief Dan Jones has first hand experience a horrific fire which claimed the lives of five students from the University of North Carolina on graduation day in 1996.

“It is extraordinary that the U.S. and U.K. fire safety and academic communities find themselves in collaboration over the fire safety of our young people in university settings. We may be an ocean apart, but we are tied together at the heart in an effort to protect our children from the devastating effects of fire,” he said.

Cheshire’s wide-ranging campaign includes:

  • a reconstruction of a fire in a student flat to highlight the risks

  • safety talks and visits by fire officers to 14 colleges and universities throughout Cheshire, Halton, and Warrington

  • a specially-commissioned viral marketing video which can be downloaded from the Service’s Web site, www.cheshirefire.gov.uk

  • provocative banners on display outside fire stations and specially-liveried fire vehicles

  • promotion of the safety message through 1,000 t-shirts given out to students, 2,000 posters delivered to colleges and universities and 25,000 beer mats distributed to pubs, clubs and restaurants.

Dr Lesley Cooke, Dean of Students at the University of Chester, which has worked with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service on this project, said, “Conveying advice and information which urges students to take personal responsibility for acting responsibly–without sounding patronising or overbearing–is a significant challenge, which is being met by this clever, witty campaign.”

James Kirkby, Chester Students’ Union President, added, “These sophisticated, yet simple messages have a cheeky edge, which should appeal to students and perfectly reinforce our own priorities for safeguarding students’ health and welfare.”

Students can register online for a free home safety assessment which includes the fitting of free smoke alarms if needed at www.cheshirefire.gov.uk or by calling 0800 389 0053.

More safety information is available on the Service’s website www.cheshirefire.gov.uk and the American site www.campus-firewatch.com.

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