By Maximiliano Peralta
False fire alarms are becoming a more prevalent issue on campus, said Assistant Director of Security Bruce Heine.
Last year the fire alarm went off on 112 occasions, not counting fire drills. An incredible 94 percent of these instances were false alarms. Only seven of those alarms were for an actual, present fire. Of the seven recorded fires on campus, two took place within residence halls on campus — an unintentional electrical fire in 820 Clary Street and another unintentional fire in Blaisdell Hall that was caused by smoking. But Heine says this number is surely going to go up this year. With the number of fires in 2010 standing at four so far, already twice the number of last year’s fires has occurred, and there’s still several weeks left in the year. The number of false alarms is expected to be within the same range and is already in the triple digits.
105 false alarms (2009 number) is “one almost every three and a half days,” said Heine, a 19-year veteran of Beloit security.
Heine noted several factors that have contributed to this incredulous number of false alarms: cooking, candles, and “people at 2 a.m. who find it drunkenly hilarious to pull the alarm.” He said many students cook for the first time in college and set off the fire alarms in their first attempts at culinary independence. Others inadvertently set off the fire alarm within their rooms by smoking. (Both smoking and candles are prohibited within residence halls.)
In the fire section of the 2010-11 Safety and Security on Campus: the Fire Safety Report and the 2009 Clery Act Report, it says Beloit often “encounters false alarms (i.e. burned food having tripped a detector.” But the booklet deems it essential that “all reports and alarms be treated as real until proven otherwise.” Which means students must leave their building no matter what, for their own safety.
“The most dangerous thing is that this causes complacency, not panic,” Heine said. Students are supposed to evacuate the premises upon first recognition of the eardrum-piercing screech of the fire alarm. But some students are no longer doing so. Many students go so far as to disregard the fire alarm now because they are accustomed to hearing it go off.
“And that’s when students die,” Heine said. It is a classic case of the infamous “boy who cried wolf” story: lethargic students remain cooped up in their rooms and put themselves at risk to being toasted because of the sheer number of false alarms every year. “False fire alarms breeds complacency,” Heine said.
Heine advises students to be smart with their decisions. “Leaving your room with candles on, even for just a minute, can cause other students to be killed.” He also warns students to not overcook food and to use the fan on the stove for ventilation. “If you see it starting to smoke, STOP!” he said. He advises students who accidently trigger the alarm to “call us so we know it isn’t a dire emergency.”
Although the number of false alarms has gone down from 135 to 105 over the last three years, fire safety is still a grave issue that must be contended with. Evacuation upon sounding of the alarm is crucial. [By evacuating buildings], “we’re trying to save lives,” Heine said. “We’re not trying to bring pain, but to help you guys.”