Busy weekends on campus lead to false fire alarms

Posted on Nov 18 2015 - 9:48am by Lauren Layton

Recent high school graduates now enrolled at UM may find comfort in the fact that a little piece of high school tomfoolery is sure to follow them to their college dorms: the pulling of fire alarms.

Most upperclassmen have experienced the headache brought on by faux-flame-induced panic while living in their freshman dorm. Some freshmen have already had their own experiences this semester with the loud-speaker commanding their attention, telling them to exit the building.

Sophomore Kaitlan Burkhalter lived in Stewart Hall her freshman year.

“I came home from class and was about to take a nap when I heard that man’s voice come on the alarm in my room,” Burkhalter said. “I was laying in bed and couldn’t believe it happened again. I was just glad it wasn’t at night this time.”

Stewart Hall is an all-girl dorm and can be prone to problems triggering the fire alarm. Fire Chief Cary Sallis of Station No. 1 in Oxford said the station more commonly deals with accidental alarms in girl dorms. Things like hairspray, hot showers and candles being blown out can set an alarm off.

Sallis has been with this fire station for 25 years. Sallis said the number of false alarm calls the department gets depends on what’s going on in the community.

“[On] big weekends we know we’re going to have calls…home ballgame weekends, a late game, a big game, or if Ole Miss wins,” Sallis said. “Because people are out there partying. we’ve gotten used to it, and we just know it’s coming.”

Sometimes firefighters respond to false alarms triggered by hair spray or hot showers. Busy football weekends are known to lead to false fire alarms as well. (Photo by: Lauren Layton)

Sometimes firefighters respond to false alarms triggered by hair spray or hot showers. Busy football weekends are known to lead to false fire alarms as well. (Photo by: Lauren Layton)

The first thing the crew does upon arrival is to check the alarm panel, which is located in a secluded area in each dorm, and find the floor or stairwell and room number that set off the alarm. They are aided in evacuating the building by the community assistants, who have been trained on what to do when the fire alarms go off.

Community assistant Sydney Shamblin lives and works in Martin Hall, which is one of the more popular buildings where fire alarms are pulled as pranks. She remembers the extensive training that the CAs went through in order to be prepared in case of an emergency.

“[The Oxford Fire Department] taught us how to use the fire extinguishers,” Shamblin said.

Ethan Peterson, coordinator of fire protection services at Ole Miss, is in charge of educating the CAs. He teaches the safety class that is a part of every CA’s training.

“It consists of a PowerPoint presentation explaining what to do in an emergency, what kind of fire code violations to look for and how to use a fire extinguisher,” Peterson said.

During the fall semester Peterson also gives a brief speech to students living in the dorms about how to handle themselves in case of a fire, along with where to exit the building and where to go once outside. He often works with the fire department, especially to update them on any changes to buildings on campus.

The Oxford Fire Department has been working hand-in-hand with the University since 1985. Before then, campus had its own station. Adjustments where made when the City of Oxford took over providing fire safety for Ole Miss.

“When we first started running it, 60 percent of our calls were to campus. Now only 35 to 40 percent are on campus,” Sallis said. “With education and working with people, it’s gotten a lot better.”