Westmont College students, staff and even parents are well aware of the campus emergency response plan. It’s been used before in the eye of a wildland fire, and not one was hurt while buildings burned.
“We’ve been telling students for a decade now. If there’s a wild fire go to the gym that’s our mantra. If there’s a fire go to the gym,”said Troy Harris, a Westmont College Vice President who specializes in risk management.
Student Kacy Mexico says she is prepared and knows what to do when there is an emergency. “On campus we all go to the gym, that’s the first place we go if there is a fire.” Off campus students can contact a school official so everyone can be accounted for.
“When we had that experience in November of 2008 (Tea Fire) it was really an amazing, a remarkable thing to watch. Within 25 minutes that place (the gym) was a beehive and and it it worked like it was supposed to,” said Harris.
The Tea Fire erupted in the hills right behind the campus six years ago and spread violently into Montecito and Santa Barbara. Some campus buildings were lost. Over 200 structures in the area were destroyed. Some were homes owned by Westmont faculty members in a community near the campus.
Westmont also found itself in the center of a wildland fire in 1964 during the Coyote Fire.
Students who are new to the area are reminded of that disaster, and of the emergency planning that is in place. Campus messages also go out regularly. “And we get text messages about it even if there is a chance of a fire,” said Mexico.
Westmont has tight roads around the school. Campus leaders work very closely with the Montecito Fire Protection District to decide in an emergency whether everyone should shelter in place or evacuate. “We don’t know which way it is going to go . We are going to depend on the fire officials on that” said Harris. One of the key questions they try to answer is, “do we have time to safely depart the campus in an organized fashion.”
During the Tea Fire, 800 students were inside the gym and no one was hurt. Flames came dangerously close. Firefighters were also there defending buildings and saving lives.
Westmont does have its own fire emergency vehicle to handle small spot fires until the fire department arrives. It is backed up by a large water tender that is also parked on the campus.
There are about 1700 students and staff on the campus.