Tufts Dining and the Tufts University Police Department collaborated to create awareness for National Fire Prevention Week during the annual Chili Fest. Held during lunch on Oct. 7 at Carmichael Dining Hall, the Chili Fest spread messaging focused on fire safety for students living both on and off campus.
Carmichael has hosted a Chili Fest for 19 years. It originated as a way to celebrate first responders after 9/11.
“It was an outgrowth after 9/11 [to] recognize the heroism of the first responders,” Patti Klos, director of dining and business services, said. “The manager of Carmichael at the time, David Kelley, just saw an opportunity to express appreciation.”
It now additionally serves as an opportunity to educate students on public safety. Tufts first responders, as well as first responders from neighboring communities, are typically invited to participate. With COVID-19 restrictions in place this year, the message about public safety and overall takeaways from the event had to be narrowed down.
“This year, because of the COVID requirements of who can be on campus and who can be unmasked and eating, we needed to limit the focus and felt that what we didn’t want to lose was the opportunity to communicate about fire safety,” Klos said.
Tufts’ Fire Marshal John Walsh was at the Chili Fest, providing students with information about fire safety most relevant to them. As he interacted with students, the first question he asked was whether or not they live off campus, as this is the biggest concern regarding fire safety for college students.
“Students move off campus … that’s where the fire problem has moved to in most communities that have a university or a college,” Walsh said. “When you talk about the dangers to a student, it’s a reality off campus much more than [on campus].”
To help students living off campus become more knowledgeable and prepared, Walsh handed out comprehensive guides about what students need to pay attention to in any potential rental space.
“It would prompt you in your evaluation to actually go over and try the window,” Walsh said. “Does it open? Is it open big enough [that] you can get out? If you’re on an upper floor, can they put a ladder to you?”
Students may not know to ask these questions without the guidance of someone who is well versed in fire safety. Therefore, Walsh said it is important to provide students with this information before they make their off-campus residence selection.
“I [had] one young lady who started looking at [the guide], and she had just previously signed a rental agreement, and she said, ‘Oh I wish I knew this before,'” Walsh said. “I’m trying to catch people before they sign.”
Carmichael had a social atmosphere during Chili Fest, according to Chef Manager Chris Adelmann.
“There definitely [were] more people here,” Adelmann said. “It was a little bit more buzzy, especially with the Tufts staff. People were just kind of hanging out and it was more social than normal.”
Walsh said that many students engaged with the staff at the event and expressed interest in learning more.
Additionally, the chili bar added an element of fun and tradition to the event.
“We had four chilis that we put out, [with] a variety of proteins and a variety of toppings, and you can make your own from there,” Adelmann said.
Prior to the event, Tufts Dining posted on their Instagram to advertise the festival and also shared some general fire safety tips.
“Our graphic designer Kim Schmidt took a look at some of the educational materials that are on the fire safety website and materials that are available for fire safety week and picked some of the types of messages that we thought [were] most applicable to students living on campus,” Klos said.
Sharing these educational resources with students aligns with Tufts Dining’s goal of using its social media for a wider range of purposes, Klos said. Tufts Dining hopes to further connect students with social and informational resources in the future.
While both Klos and Walsh said that the Chili Fest is the only established collaboration that currently takes place between the two organizations, they each expressed interest in finding additional avenues for outreach.
“Please approach us,” Klos said. “We love the collaboration, and there may be other kinds of things that are happening that could be fun.”