False fire alarms still going off around campus

| Contributing Reporter
The oven on the first floor kitchen of Shepley House set off another false fire alarm in the South 40 dorm on Wednesday morning.

“Someone was baking a pie, and it set off the detector,” a maintenance staff member who arrived in response to the alarm said.

The same situation had already occurred several times this semester. A fire alarm was set off accidentally due to the use of the oven in this kitchen earlier in the semester. In most instances, the false alarms went off in the morning, except once when it happened late at night, waking up residents in the dorm.

Sophomore Dowoo Kim, who lives in Shepley, said that the false fire alarms occurred about once a week during the beginning of the semester. She said that the first floor kitchen, which has the only oven in the building, was closed for a month starting in mid-October.

“I think there is a problem with our building, because when I lived in Beaumont last year this was not a problem, even though Beaumont has a lower quality kitchen,” Kim said.

Washington University Emergency Coordinator Mark Bagby attributes the cause of the false fire alarms to the burning of food scraps that hadn’t been cleaned up on the stoves when the next person used them.

“They are electric stoves,” he said. “Food gets on there. Somebody uses it, the food burns; it sets off the fire alarm.”

According to Bagby, the Washington University Police Department is in charge of all fire alarms on campus. There is a dispatcher on duty there 24 hours a day who, in the event of a fire on the South 40, would contact the Clayton Fire Department, and send a police officer and facilities staff member to inspect the incident.

On Oct. 1, University staff failed to act quickly enough to identify a false alarm when a fire alarm was set off in Seigle Hall due to dust from construction work inside the building.

The fire alarm continued to sound as firemen were initially unable to unlock the master fire alarm panel to turn it off because one of the occupants of the building had changed the lock.

Bagby asserted, however, that there is no chance of firemen not having access to the building in case of an actual fire.

“There is a Knox Box that has cards and keys [to everywhere on campus], and only the fire department has access to it,” he said.

Bagby also said that some of the past false alarms were really fire drills.

“We are required to do four fire drills per year by the fire code. One is carried out within the first 10 days of school, one in spring, one in summer and one false alarm is counted with the code.”

According to Bagby, the drills proceed smoothly with no trouble for the most part, except for the occasional complaining resident.

“Especially in the fall, you always get one or two people who were showering. One person who had soap and stuff when the drill alarm went off,” Bagby said. “We get the negative reaction when it’s a false alarm.”

One important fire hazard that has been addressed through the drills is the use of doorstops.

“Doors are also intended as fire stops. It would take two hours for a fire to burn through a door,” Bagby said. “When people put doorstops, what they’re doing is creating an opportunity for the fire to spread.”

Last fall, 700 doorstops were removed from campus buildings during fire drills. This fall, as a response to the lessons learned from last year, fewer than 100 were removed.

Bagby is also working on a video instructing students as to how to use fire extinguishers and recommends that students take the time to learn about emergency procedures online at either emergency.wustl.edu or ehs.wustl.edu.

“There are lots of tools out there,” he said.