Smoke detectors around campus have been causing a great deal of fire alarms to sound off in classroom and residence hall buildings.
Recently, an ‘E-Cigarrette’ and a hair straightener set off fire alarms in Watson and Building F.
Paul Novak, director of environmental health and safety explained that the fire alarms on campus do not go off based on sensitivity. Novak said all fire alarms are set to the minimum requirements that are set forth by the fire codes.
“It’s not something that can be manually modified,” Novak said. “The fire alarms are set to detect smoke or anything that would be reflective of what that smoke concentration is. Some products such as hairsprays and gels would be able to basically set it off because it’s present in the same kind of concentration. It’s telling that device that there is smoke or a potential fire.
Novak said there are no particular fire alarms that are used for the different types of building, whether the building is a classroom building, a residence hall or a gym. He said there’s only one type of fire alarm system. He also said the quantity of fire alarms in the classroom buildings and residence halls depends upon the square footage of the space.
“How long a hallway is will dictate how many smoke alarms there needs to be. Some may have more smoke alarms than others. There are no different types of fire alarm systems based on the occupancy,” Novak said.
Novak said regardless of the location of the fire detection units, when students hear an alarm, they have to assume that it is going off for the appropriate purpose and should evacuate the building immediately.
“A lot of people will say it’s a false alarm. Well, no. The alarm went off, so it’s not false. It’s just not a fire,” Novak said.
The fire alarms on campus are tested every August and February and the residence halls are tested twice annually, Novak said. The university takes the number of buildings on campus and divides them up into two testing events. He also said the university tests all of the sprinkler systems on a prescribed basis. The fire extinguishers are checked once a month. Although all of the fire alarms are checked, Novak said there’s no need to change a fire alarm unless there is a problem with it.
According to Novak, the three main things that set off fire alarms in residence hall building are negligent cooking, steam from the shower and hair products. During residence hall trainings, which happen every semester, Novak said one of the things he tries to highlight to the graduate assistants and community assistants is the importance of keeping these things away from the proximity of a smoke alarm.
“It’s been our experience in the last two to three years that the majority of our fire alarms in residence halls are due to what I would call negligent cooking, such as if students have access to a microwave and they put a piece of pizza in for five minutes or popcorn for 10 minutes,” Novak said.
“We see that a lot. The best things that students can do is to be responsible. With the steam in the shower, students should make sure that the fan exhaust is on when they’re showering and rather than opening the door right away so that that steam rushes out and finds its way to the smoke alarm, students should open their door slowly and allow the steam to dissipate slowly. The smoke alarms are doing what they’re supposed to do.”