Chief of Purdue University Fire Department
Only a few U.S. university campuses have fire departments, so Kevin Ply feels lucky to have spent the past 23 years at the Purdue University Fire Department. As fire chief, he has been leading the way for campus fire prevention; two years ago, Ply was recognized as Indiana Fire Chief of the Year.
Ply intends to fulfill the mission of the fire service "to save lives and property" during the estimated 2,600 emergency runs the PUFD will make this year. Whether it's a damaging storm, a hazardous materials spill or an airplane fire, he is confident it will be handled with expertise and courage.
How is the PUFD taking steps to improve campus fire safety?
The U.S. Fire Administration recently funded a grant through People's Burn Foundation for us to produce a campus fire safety video. Most college-aged students don't receive fire safety education after grade school, so we developed a video keeping this in mind. We followed the video with some interactive games about relevant issues for college students -- cooking safety and partying smart.
Also, in 2007 we were able to create a position for a fire prevention specialist, and last year we added two more fire prevention officers to our staff. They provide inspection services to the 65 fraternity, sorority and cooperative houses at Purdue. They provide fire safety education, coordinates CPR/AED and fire extinguisher training for faculty, staff and students.
The fire prevention division of the department had created a Fire and Life Safety Guide to assist the Greek organizations, not only at Purdue, but also at other universities and colleges, to improve fire safety. Last year we introduced a Building Emergency Plan template to help the Greek and cooperative houses develop evacuation and shelter procedures. The fire prevention division is available to discuss fire prevention programs at chapter meetings and to help plan Greek events.
In what ways are you involved in fire safety education nationally?
I'm currently the third vice president for the Indiana Fire Chiefs Association. I recently worked with the Minger Foundation, which works to raise awareness and standards of campus fire safety for all students, especially those with disabilities. We just finished a series of videos that focuses on fire safety for individuals with different disabilities. We also created a guide that gives instructors tools and tips on how to best present fire safety to students with disabilities.
And it's not just about educating students. I've talked to parents who have lost children in fires and it really opened my eyes. One father told me when they moved their daughter to college they were worried about getting her books and food but not about checking for working smoke alarms and sprinkler systems. So we're constantly working on ways to help parents educate their students.
You started out as a volunteer firefighter. How did you make the transition to a career fire chief?
The Purdue fire department was the only place I ever looked when I started thinking about becoming a career firefighter. This department is really unique in that everyone on staff here is a hazardous materials technician, and we are all airport firefighter certified. The wide range of things we do keeps things interesting.
What is something faculty, staff and students might not know about the PUFD?
We have 31 of the best and brightest emergency service people around, and they work for Purdue's students, faculty, staff and visitors. We are very fortunate to be able to provide our services free of charge so people on campus can worry first about their health and safety, not the costs.