UND students partner with the Grand Forks Fire Department for Fire Safety Fest

For GFFD leaders, it was a chance to offer teachable moments and explain their work in more detail, but also to make a pitch for recruitment.

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UND student Alexandra D'Allaird operates a fire extinguisher simulator, while Dan Sorensen, with the UND safety office, explains its use.
Adam Kurtz / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — A class of UND students got some practical work experience helping the Grand Forks Fire Department organize a fire safety event on campus, Tuesday, April 5.

Held over the lunch hour Tuesday, the Fire Safety Fest drew students to the Memorial Union ballroom to be reminded about fire safety tips and get some hands-one experience with equipment. For GFFD leaders, it was a chance to offer teachable moments and explain their work in more detail, but also to make a pitch for recruitment.

“There’s more to firefighting than just fighting fire,” said GFFD Chief Gary Lorenz.

The ballroom was set up in stations offering students the chance to use a fire extinguisher simulator, handle a weighted hose, see equipment that can analyze an unidentified substance and see how a thermal imaging system works. After making the rounds and checking off the stations on a provided list, students ate a donated lunch from Deek’s Pizza.

Fire Marshal Rod Freitag instructed people how to use the fire extinguisher simulator — an extinguisher equipped with a sensor that electronically “sprayed” a glowing orange fire on a receiver. Freitag said people sometimes forget how to use extinguishers, and set them off inadvertently.


“I’d play that game forever,” said one student after putting out the “fire.”

The safety event was organized by the students of a UND communication class, taught by Associate Professor Joonghwa Lee. Lee runs the class as if the students work at an actual public relations and marketing company. Students held meetings with fire officials, put together a media campaign, organized the event and designed a logo the fire department could display.

“I think it's super important to get as much experience as you can, but also this is so much fun,” said Edmond Aynedjian, one of the creators of the event. “If you want to be involved you're involved, and you learn so much.”

Lee said the event was scheduled to be held in 2020, but was called off due to the pandemic. With the decline of coronavirus cases, Lee again reached out to his students’ “client” to get the ball rolling. While Lee guided his class through the project, it was up to the students to get it done.

“The teaching philosophy of this class is learning by doing,” he said.

UND students Charlotte Sonterre and Jayda Boyd, stand with Associate Professor Joonghwa Lee in the Memorial Union ballroom. Lee's communication students worked to put on a fire safety event on campus for the Grand Forks Fire Department

Lorenz said the fire department is always looking for ways to promote safety at UND. The event provided that opportunity, but was also a forum to speak about careers. Working with the UND communication class was the answer to bringing those goals together in one event.

“How do we promote fire safety among UND students, and how do we promote careers in the fire service among UND students?” Lorenz said. “Those were the two big goals.”

Lorenz said firefighters get called to UND “a fair amount.” Safety information on display included being careful when cooking — perhaps a new task for some students — as well as maintaining awareness of fire exits and not disregarding smoke detectors.


Beth Hellwig, interim vice president for student affairs, has worked at a number of college campuses in her career. Speaking at the event she said she was often the person called in the middle of the night when a fire broke out. Those fires sometimes resulted in serious injuries, or in some cases fatalities.

She cautioned students to be careful with candles and matches — a fire started in a sorority at the University of Northern Colorado while she was there, which burned the house to the ground — as well to properly discard smoking materials.

Hellwig also told students to make sure rented rooms have egress windows, and recalled a fire at the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire, where two students died and another two were severely burned.

“The lesson I'd like you to think about as you're renting a house or an apartment, is to make sure you can get out in case of an emergency,” she said.

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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