Safety Week: Games! Prizes! Movies! Live Music! (and a thing or two about safety)

McGill's annual Safety Week will be held from Sept. 17-21. This year's event, designed to educate the McGill community about the safety services and procedures available at the University, will be based on an old-fashioned carnival.
The Safety Week mascot.

By Neale McDevitt

If everyone had a personal theme song, The Band’s “Life is a Carnival” would be the perfect choice for Bruce Lapointe. Always quick with a joke, the affable Emergency Measures Officer seems to live by the credo that if you smile the world will smile along with you.

Which makes it no surprise that as one of the organizers of this year’s Safety Week, Lapointe decided to give the event an old-fashioned carnival theme. “We’re calling it ‘The Greatest Show on Campus,’” said Lapointe as he showed off one of the several carnival-style posters he made (on his own time) to help promote the event.

Safety Week will run from Sept. 17-21, and will offer presentations and other events to educate the McGill community about the safety services and procedures available at the University. The week kicks-off with Hazardous Waste Management’s open house in which people will learn how the unit safely recycles or disposes of everything from everyday items like batteries, electronics and fluorescent lights to the big-ticket items like chemical, biomedical and radioactive waste.

The show will go on the road on to Macdonald Campus Sept. 18 before swinging back downtown for the full carnival on Lower Campus. “Each unit from University Safety will have their own tent where they will host an activity based on carnival games but adapted to safety,” said Lapointe. “And each game has been hand-built by volunteers. I know because it took me 12 hours to paint the six-foot-tall carnival barker that is our mascot” [see photo].

In one tent, carnival-goers will get to play a game called Towering Inferno in which they see how efficiently they can wield a fire extinguisher as they attempt to put out the flames climbing up the façade of a building. “We use a fire simulator which is basically a video screen that projects flames and you use a fire extinguisher to put out the flame,” said Lapointe. “It’s fun and, along the way, people actually learn the proper way to use an extinguisher.”

Fun is the key to just about anything Lapointe has his hand in, as witnessed by last year’s Safety Week which was based on a zombie apocalypse and called Week of the Living Dead. “Four years ago, our first Safety Week was a very basic tabling event where we had a big tent and we gave presentations and handed out pamphlets,” said Lapointe. “We still drew almost 6,000 people but it was a little dry.

“We needed a way to make it more fun for students to get them involved,” he said.

On top of playing the carnival games, people can take part in any number of safety-related presentations and activities, including a self-defense session for women, a demonstration on how to use a defibrillator (there are over 48 on campus), and talks on identity theft, the 40th anniversary of the Bluebird Café fire and the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster. One of the popular events from last year, the safety obstacle course inspired by firefighters’ obstacle course, will be back again to test competitors’ physical and mental abilities.

And, in keeping with the whole idea of fun, Wednesday night will end with a free concert by Montreal band The Damn Truth and an outdoor viewing of the new Johnny Depp film, Dark Shadows. Finally, in keeping with tradition, Safety Week will end with the community BBQ, hosted by Security Services. Coupons for the BBQ will be distributed to visitors and participants during the week.

If it sounds like a lot of effort, that’s because it is. But Lapointe believes it is worth every second of planning… and painting. “We want to make ourselves and our services known to the McGill community. We have units that many people don’t know about even though they could really benefit from their services,” he said. “You know the guy who is working at his desk and is always complaining about his sore back? We have ergonomics experts who can come in and assess your workstation and tell you that you should put your keyboard lower or raise your chair.

“Safety Week is all about us making people aware that we’re here for them in all sorts of ways,” said Lapointe. “A student might be walking by and see the games and the lights and decide to poke his head in. Next thing you know, he’s learned how to use a fire extinguisher. How cool is that?”

Safety week will run from Sept. 17-21. For the schedule and a complete list of events, go to