UB emphasizes importance of evacuating dorm rooms during fire drills

The Spectrum

The clock reads 11 p.m., and your bed is really comfortable. It's 15 degrees outside, and your comforter seems to be the only warm place. Suddenly, the fire alarm goes off.

Students are faced with a choice: Stay cozy, or follow the command of the blaring siren to ensure their safety. Outside, they'll wait - sometimes in frigid temperatures - until the building is cleared and the alarms shut off. Oftentimes, it's a false alarm.

In 2013, the University Police Department (UPD) responded to 1,064 fire alarms. Sixteen of them turned out to be actual fires, according to Lt. Joshua Sticht. Three of those fires took place in resident halls. That means that .02 percent of the fire alarms that go off are in response to an actual fire. In 2012, UPD responded to 1,126 fire alarms.

Students are used to the false alarms, and many choose not to react with immediate concern when hearing the alarms. Some students ignore them altogether, despite warnings that their safety could be in jeopardy.

Lily Weisberg, a freshman business major, decided to not leave her dorm room when the alarms started to ring in Richmond at the end of last semester. It was around 7 p.m., and Weisberg was packing up to leave for break. A resident advisor (RA) opened Weisberg's door and saw her still in her room. Though there was no fire, Weisberg was written up for her decision to not leave the room.

Fifty-four students were written up for breaking the fire alarms and fire-fighting equipment regulations in 2012-13, according to the Community Standards Program. The regulation includes students who don't leave for fire alarms and also students who shoot off fire extinguishers, tamper with fire systems and more, according to Victoria Hellman, the assistant director for Residential Life in the Ellicott complex.

The students who do get in trouble face punishment from the ResLife. Hellman said the punishment for staying inside while a fire alarm is sounding includes community service, mandatory fire education courses or being put on fire extinguisher safety checks. Repeat offenders could face probation or dismissal, Hellman said.

In May 2013, UB had one of its most serious fire incidents when former student Alec Seidenberg dropped a butane torch in his dorm room, causing $80,000 in damages.

The Environmental Health and Safety's policy for New York State fire code states universities must have four scheduled fire drills in each residential area per year. All other non-residential buildings must have at least three drills annually.

Typically, students are caught when RAs open dorm rooms after an alarm to see if students have left or not. RAs are given full permission to check residents' rooms during fire alarms, once the cause of the alarm is determined to not be a real fire.

In their training, RAs are told to evacuate as quickly as possible in case of danger.

"We take every alarm seriously and assume it to be a real fire and expect students to do the same, so if it seems like there should be more students outside during an alarm, then yes, we reserve the right to check rooms," Hellman said.

In case of emergency, the Getzville Fire Department is the main responder (outside of UPD) for North Campus and the Buffalo City Fire Department is for South Campus.

The University Police are the first responders to any reported fire on campus. UPD works with UB's department of Environmental, Health and Safety as well as the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control to maintain and respond to any and all fire alarm systems on campus.

The sound of a fire alarm sends ResLife, UPD, Environmental Health and Safety, numerous fire departments and the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control rushing to respond to the sound.

"Student safety is paramount," Hellman said.

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