A study zone for students, library becomes firefighters’ training zone

Posted December 11, 2017

UW-River Falls Pre-major Adviser Molly Foley found herself advising not students but firefighters Monday, as the River Falls Fire Department performed a pre-planning walk-through of the Chalmer Davee Library.

Though a learning ground to many of the department’s firefighters, the campus library was commonplace to Foley, who in addition to working for the university in the Chalmer Davee basement is in her 22nd year of serving as a volunteer firefighter for the city. As the fire department conducted its drill, Foley’s knowledge of her campus work environment gave her much insight and knowledge to share with her firefighting colleagues.

“It was familiar to me because I know the building,” Foley said. “So I was just trying to think if you hadn’t been in that building in a long time, what would be some things to point out.”

Among the things she pointed out were places, passageways, and pieces of equipment that remain entirely unexplored and off limits to much of the campus community and general public. However, all of the discrete building aspects that were visited during the walk-through were things that the firefighters need to be aware of in the case of various emergencies.

“This is the main fire alarm panel for the entire university,” said firefighter Doug Rudesill as he informed the department of the campuswide broadcasting system that the library hosts. “With this one here, with the microphone, you can talk to any dorm room, or any collection of rooms, or entire buildings – everything! Kids can be in their bedrooms sleeping and you can talk to them.”

Another one of the building’s hidden locations that made the route was an entrance to the campus’ steampipe tunnel system, a crawlspace with steampipe running through that connects to every building on campus. They all are heated by steam from the campus power plant, according to firefighter Mike Moody.

“Actually, going under Cascade to North Hall,” Moody said, “it keeps the ground warm enough so that when it’s really cold out, instead of the snow being plowed off, it freezes down in to ice in that one short spot. Most people never figured that out.”

The Fire Department would be called to the tunnel crawlspace if one of its maintenance workers were ever to have a heart attack or medical issue, according to Moody.

With 48 firefighters currently serving on the department, it was necessary for the firefighters to split in two groups when conducting the pre-planning drill. Both groups drew looks of intent curiosity from students who happened to notice the sudden-but-brief invasion of their study habitat.

“At first I didn’t know they were firefighters so I was kind of confused as to who were all these people standing here,” said Lucy Schetnan, a UWRF Spanish major. “It was interesting because I wasn’t sure what was going on.”

Upon learning who the people were and what they were doing congregating in the library, Schetnan developed a deeper perspective about campus safety.

“It’s a good reminder that we have all these people in our town to provide that kind of assistance when we are in need of help like that,” she said. “It just shows that we have a good group of people that are here to protect us.”

Initially, the department had planned to conduct the pre-planning walk-through at the university Falcon Center, instead of the library. However, the plans were altered due to two new classes of firefighters that have joined the department since the last time the drill was performed at Chalmer Davee a couple years ago, according to the department. All but one firefighter at River Falls have already completed a walk-through of the Falcon Center since its September opening, which made the campus library more of a priority.