Steamy showers send alarm bells ringing
Katie Stark / Sun Star
Cutler Apartment students taking steamy showers have set off the fire alarms three times in the last month. The false alarms, which happened on Sep. 17, Sep. 27 and Oct. 3, were caused by students neglecting to turn on the bathroom fan while showering.
This event is a common occurrence and has happened anywhere from several times a month to several times a semester, according to the University Fire Department (UFD).
“It disrupts us, and it takes them a long time to get over here and turn them off,” Cutler resident Sarah Lilly said.
The fire alarms in each apartment are located on the opposite side of the wall from the bathroom, a feature that makes them vulnerable to going off, according to UFD prevention technician Brooke Zellweger.
“A lot of people don’t want to turn on the fan when they shower,” Zellweger said. “That is the number one reason the fire alarms go off.”
Burnt or smoking food has also previously set off the alarms, but the most recent cases have been because of the showers.
When the alarm is set off in one apartment, the entire block is required to evacuate the building until the fire department arrives.
Once notified of the fire, UFD is at the apartment complex within five minutes to go over standard emergency procedure.
“Most likely it’s going to be a false alarm, so we’ll start heading towards the fire alarm panel to start resetting as quick as we can. Especially if it’s cold out, we’ll get somebody down there as soon as possible,” UFD chief Jim Styers said.
Because the alarms in Cutler are an older technology, installed in the mid 1980s, the fire department has no way of knowing which apartment set off the smoke alarm, and has to spend extra time finding it.
“In the upper dorms, when the detector’s activated and when I’m dispatched, they can tell me the room number,” Styers said, “whereas here at SAAC [Cutler] it just says it’s in building 100.”
Another reason the alarms go off so frequently is due to their old age, the smoke detectors get more sensitive as they get older, according to Styers. He also said UFD Alarm technicians are attempting to find a balance to make the smoke detectors less sensitive, but still safe, as replacing the system would cost too much.
“It’s kind of a fine balance to make sure they pick up the particles of smoke if there is a fire in there, but yet not so sensitive that it is picking up the steam,” Styers said.