Letter to the Editor
We are writing to you in response to your article in the March 26 edition of The Spectrum, "UB Emphasizes Importance of Evacuating Dorm Rooms During Fire Drills." Though we would like to thank you for printing an article on such an important and lifesaving topic, we feel there are a few statements in the printed article that will be easily misinterpreted by your readers. We would like the opportunity to clarify some of the information and help the reader understand more completely the operation of fire alarms.
The Office of Environment Health & Safety is required by the fire code to run four mandatory fire drills per year in the dorm buildings. All alarm activations above that number means the building alarm was activated for a reason. Your article used the phrase "false alarms." There are very few "false alarms" on campus. When there is an alarm activation, most often the activation is caused by occcupant actions. These are not "false" alarms, but alarms working as designed. It is possible that readers of your article could interpret the words "false alarm" to mean the building fire system is malfunctioning. This is proven not to be the case for almost all building alarm activations at UB.
When the building alarm activates, it means it was activated for a reason and that the alarms are working properly and are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. A fire alarm is composed of many components; the most common one is smoke detectors. When an alarm system is activated by a smoke detector, it visually monitors particles in the air, and when it detects an elevated presence of particles, it sends a signal to the alarm panel to activate the building fire alarm. When responders arrive, they can easily tell where the incident is by looking at the fire panel. As they are locating the location of the emergency, the building occupants need to immediately exit the building using the closest stairwell and remain outside of the building until told it is safe to return to their rooms by the hall director, the University Police Department or emergency responders on scene.
Alarm activations from smoke resulting from inattentive cooking is the leading cause of alarm activations on Campus (at least half). Many of these activations could be prevented if students would not leave their kitchen area when cooking and not leave food items unattended, especially when using the microwave. If smoke does occur while cooking, students need to open a window to air out the smoke from the room. The building alarm system will activate as it is intended to do, and students should leave the building. Cooking is the leading cause of fires in America. In addition, students need to be aware that steam from showers can also activate the alarm, as well as aerosols (hair spray, concentrated room fresheners) being sprayed too closely to the detector. Tampering with the building fire safety devices such as the fire extinguishers and pull stations can also cause activations.
We feel it is important to note that each individual life-saving device on campus (heat detector, smoke detector, pull station) is tested once a year to ensure they are working properly. This 6-7 month process to test these devices in each room and in every building on campus is performed every year.
Environment Health & Safety Fire Life Safety Division runs many educational programs throughout the year, and our main goal is to educate students on the importance of safe living. At our campus events, we educate students on the dangers of inattentive cooking and also address other reasons building fire alarms are activated on campus. We hold closely supervised bedroom burns and kitchen burns typically twice a year to send the message on how quickly fire can spread and the dangers of ignoring smoke detector devices.
The article states that "only .02% of alarms are in response to an actual fire." We would like to address this statement. It is our opinion that this is not accurate, as every alarm is in response to an activation caused by a safety rule not being followed. It is our opinion that just because a fire does not occur with each fire alarm activation, that does not mean the situation was not serious. Most all campus fire alarm activations could be avoided by practicing safe living instructions. Every alarm needs to be taken seriously.
The Office of Environment Health & Safety has a community service program in place and is happy that students are reprimanded for not leaving their building during a fire alarm activation and/or for tampering with fire safety devices. We take these actions seriously and work with students to increase their knowledge of fire safety and enhance their perception of fire safety practices, both on campus and off campus.
Environment Health & Safety
Fire & Life Safety Team