• Fire alarms fail to alarm

    by Joe Ziegler


  • On Feb. 2, fire alarms sounded in La Roche College’s Science Center, College Center and Academic Building.


    The response of students, faculty and visitors to those fire alarms has prompted La Roche College to begin offering a series of training courses to help better educate the La Roche community on fire safety.


    ”It was not a false alarm, and it went off twice,“ Vice President for Administrative Services George Zaffuto said.


    ”We had to respond to that with the fire company and everything because it was real.“ Zaffuto said.


    ©Rebecca Jeskey


    ”There are rumors that it was a drill, and those rumors are not accurate. It needed to be responded to as a real alarm situation.“


    The fire company responded and encountered people exiting the building when they arrived, according to Zaffuto. ”I think that they assumed that it was a fire drill. I think that people assumed that it was a drill and did not respond properly. We are trying to explain to people that it doesn’t matter what you think. If that alarm goes off, everybody except the responding people need to leave that building,“ he said.


    According Director of Public Safety David Hilke, the evacuation plans for La Roche’s facilities are located on the La Roche Intranet under the Office of Public Safety tab. Hilke explained general instructions for evacuating the buildings.


    ”It’s basic. Get out of the building, remain 500 feet away. That way they’re clear of the fire department,“ he said. He added that students and staff can relocateto any building that is not alarmed. ”They can go outside, or they can go to another building,“


    He added that students and staff can relocate to any building that is not alarmed. ”They can go outside, or they can go to another building,“ Hilke said. ”We get a lot of complaints about it being cold outside, but that doesn’t matter. People need to leave those buildings.“


    Fire doors separate the Academic Extension Building and John J. Wright from the Science Center, College Center and Academic Building, according to Hilke. Both sections operate on a separate alarm system. Hilke also said that when evacuating a building it is important to use the nearest safe exit.


    ”We had people walk past five exits to go out the front door of the College Center,“ Hilke said. ”People get in the mentality of going out the same door they came in, and they need to be aware of their surroundings. That’s why exit signs are there, and that’s why they are lit up.“


    Hilke said that an alarm telecommunications center monitors La Roche College’s fire alarm systems continuously all year.


    ”There are two phone lines, so if there is ever a phone issue, there is dual coverage on that as well,“ Hilke reported. ”It’s a good system.“


    He said the alarm telecommunications center, or ATC, makes two phone calls after alarms are set off. The first call is to contact the fire department about the active alarm on campus, and the second call notifies Public Safety.


    According to Zaffuto, Public Safety and Facilities Management report to him, and the two areas share responsibility for handling future fire alarms. ”We are jointly giving those two areas responsibility,“ Zaffuto said. ”So, you will see more of a presence with facilities people helping get people out of the building in a timely manner, helping anyone with a disability. We are making a number of adjustments to keep people safe.“


    Earlier this year, Public Safety said they conducted four fire alarm tests, one in each of the resident halls.


    According to Hilke, La Roche announced the Bold Hall fire alarm, which was pulled on Sept. 24, and 113 people were successfully evacuated within five minutes of the alarm. The other three alarms in Mahler, Schneider and Peters, were unannounced, but all three buildings were also successfully evacuated in less than five minutes, according to Public Safety records.


    La Roche has begun to hold informational sessions to combat the poor response of students and faculty to the College Center fire drill. The first session, held on Feb. 11, featured a presentation by Dan Stack, the McCandless Township fire marshall and was open to anyone in the La Roche community. According to Zaffuto, morning and afternoon time slots were offered and 68 people attended the sessions.


    Zaffuto said, ”This is a very serious issue. We’re dealing with people’s lives. We are not trying to hassle people, but we’re trying to get them out of the buildings as fast as possible for their own safety. That’s our motivation.“