Fire drills are ‘weird’?

Photo by Devarsh Oza

Fire alarm at Durham College

It was very surprising to have a fire drill for Dhiren Tandel, an international student from India. Tandel thought his first fire drill was a fake fire alarm.

“Well, this is something I have never had back in my country. It was more shocking and weird to me,” said Tandel.

According to Rick Bowler, a fire fighter professor at Durham College, fire drills are very important for every school. Bowler says fire drills prepare students and faculty for real fires.

“Fire drills provide training for staff, who are required to activate an alarm. They also train fire fighters to know where the faculty and students are to be located,” said Bowler.

This fire drill was not only surprising for Tandel but also for many international students at Durham College who have never experienced a fire drill in their home country. The majority of DC international students come from India followed by China, Pakistan and Nigeria.

There are several reasons for not having fire drills in these countries. This includes lack of funds in schools, lack of awareness about fires and fewer cases of fires.

According to the Canadian Bureau of International Education, most international students are from developing countries such as India, Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico.

In most of these nations, schools as well as people lack basic needs. People don’t have enough food, education and even water. Schools don’t have electricity, teachers and sometimes even buildings.

“No, for my school in India it is really expensive to have fire alarms and fire drills,” said Aju Jojo, an international student from Kerala in India.

Lack of basic education is also a big problem. Many students from Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh study in Canada, according to The Canadian Bureau of International Education. According to UNESCO, literacy rates in those countries are under 65 per cent. Most of the international students in Canada are from China, followed by India and South Korea.

According to UNESCO, the literacy rate in India is only 71.4 per cent, which means almost 30 per cent of the population in India cannot read and write. That is almost 290 million people.

It is hard to find people who are aware of fire safety in developing countries such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Fire stations in villages are very unusual. Increasing the literacy rate is quite challenging and as a result, fire drills are rarely discussed.

The situation is almost the same in South America. According to 2013 article in the Washington Times, Peruvian fire departments are ill-equipped. This means fire departments in Peru don’t even have the latest equipment, such as fire alarms and smoke detectors.

At the same time, most of the people in South America have not attended college, according to UNESCO. For example, only about 2 million people in Peru attended high school, which is less than half of the total population of Peru.

“In Peru, people don’t care about the fire,” said Claudia Cubas Quiroz, an international student from Peru at Durham College.

According to a report of International Association of Fire and Rescue Service India, Pakistan and China do not have a lot of fires per year.

The raw material used to build houses in India, Pakistan and Nigeria is different from the materials used in Canada. The houses and buildings in most of those countries are made of cement and concrete, while most of the houses in North America are made of wood. Concrete does not capture or spread fire as fast as wood does.

For many international students, houses made of wood are something they had never seen before coming to Canada.

“In India, our houses are made of bricks … and in Canada they put wood in the houses, and wood catches the fire faster than the bricks,” said Saju Sam, an international student from Kerala, India.

That is one of the reasons why fire drills and fire alarms are not discussed a lot in India as well as Pakistan, China and Nigeria.

Durham College makes special arrangements to inform international students about Canadian house fires.

“For international students we have the local fire department in orientation to speak about how to live safe in Canadian houses,” said Larissa Strong, the international adviser at Durham College.

Due to lack of education, awareness and fewer cases of fires, many international students such as Dhiren Tandel feel surprised when they hear fire drills in North American colleges and universities.

“ Well it is surprising to me, but I mean I am from India, right. And India got difference in everything from Canada, so fire drills are also apart of that difference,” said Tandel.