Evelyn Carreno stepped to the front of a small crowd of teenagers Thursday night, music pounding in the background as she raised her arm and pulled the trigger - on a fire extinguisher simulator.
She aimed at a small screen about four feet away, where a bright-orange digital fire was raging. Slowly, she swept the extinguisher's green beam across the screen and "put out" the fire. The crowd of teenagers erupted into cheers, and with a broad grin Carreno accepted her free T-shirt from the Chattanooga Fire Department.
"That was pretty cool," Carreno, 18, said. "It sounded like a video game from Chuck E. Cheese's. It was exciting."
The Chattanooga Fire Department is working to educate incoming University of Tennessee at Chattanooga freshmen on fire safety and prevention, Chattanooga Fire Marshal James Whitmire said. The department has been holding hourlong classes and demonstrations twice a week at UTC since June. The goal of the sessions is to help students know what to do if they encounter a fire while at school.
"A lot of students are leaving their home setting where mom and dad are taking care of them, and they are getting out on their own," he said. "We felt like this was a great time to approach them on fire safety."
Whitmire estimates the classes will reach about 2,000 incoming freshmen, who are required to attend the course as part of their freshman orientation. Lisa Gladden, who works for the UTC office of safety and risk management, said the fire extinguisher simulator is an important hands-on learning tool.
"Many of these incoming students have never used a fire extinguisher," she said. "So we want them to use it in a safe setting where they won't be intimidated by it if they have to use one in a real situation."
Gladden said the university doesn't deal with a large number of serious fires, but small cooking fires often set off the fire alarm systems.
"So another part of it is trying to educate them not to walk away from the stove if they having something on the skillet," she said.
Whitmire said students seem to enjoy the demonstrations.
"What's really exciting is we got some good feedback from the students," he said. "Some of the students get wrapped up in it like it's a real fire. It's a serious situation, but in a relaxed setting."
The department is also planning to give courses to incoming freshmen at Tennessee Temple University, Whitmire said.
Incoming UTC freshman Camila Pulido said the demonstration was both fun and practical.
"I feel better prepared, because I actually held a fire extinguisher," she said.