Monday, August 27, 2012

On any given day, there are thousands of faculty, staff and students who are working or living in buildings and residence halls across campus. For Kyunda McKnight, their safety is a concern each and every day.

As the University’s fire safety inspector, McKnight is part of the Environmental Health and Safety Office. Her main focus is to ensure the campus is in compliance with all federal, state and local regulations as mandated by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, N.C. Department of Insurance, N.C. Fire Code and N.C. Building Code to name a few.

“I inspect all University facilities both on campus and off campus, including UNC Charlotte Center City, the Foundation Building and the Ben Craig Center,” said McKnight. “My inspections are in advance of those carried out by state officials twice a year. We all have checklists of possible violations that we look for.”

Given the job responsibilities of being the campus fire safety inspector, McKnight has a high level of contact with faculty, staff and students.

When she joined the University two years ago, she conducted a simulation geared toward students. Two mock dorm rooms were created – one equipped with sprinklers, one without.

“We set both rooms on fire to illustrate the potential dangers,” McKnight explained. “It takes Charlotte-Mecklenburg Fire Department roughly six minutes to respond to campus. At the time, our high rise residence halls didn’t have sprinklers, so we wanted to stress the importance of evacuating in a timely but safe manner. By the end of the summer, all the high rise residence halls will have sprinklers, but students still need to be prepared to respond to fire alarms.”

This September, McKnight will conduct a similar event to promote fire safety in kitchens.

In addition to residence halls, fire drills are conducted in all academic and administrative buildings periodically. As she inspects facilities, McKnight is vigilant for any violations. Most often, she uncovers issues associated with extension cords and sprinklers.

“A lot of people don’t realize that extension cords are for temporary use only – no longer than 90 days. I will confiscate them, depending upon where they’re being used. Power and surge protectors are okay, and sometimes I’ll recommend having the building manager contact facilities management to have a new outlet installed,” explained McKnight. “Blocking sprinkler heads is another issue. Sometimes I discover equipment or other material stacked to the ceiling. Fire codes require 18 inches of clearance for sprinklers to protect the room or building if they are triggered.”

McKnight said the goal wasn’t to hinder anyone’s job but to be a partner in ensuring everyone’s safety – which is the ultimate reward.

A native of Henderson, McKnight completed a bachelor’s degree in graphic communications and a master’s in industrial technology with a focus in occupational safety and health from N.C. A&T State University.

When not conducting campus fire safety inspections, McKnight enjoys exercising. She runs twice a week with a women’s group and loves to cook and experiment with new recipes.

“Since I bought my house, I’ve been trying to grow a garden. I keep buying seeds and plants – but they die,” joked McKnight. “I had some success with peppermint and a few lilies this year, though.”