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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Fire alarms become a nuisance, not a warning

Published: March 16, 2007
Section: Opinions

On Sunday morning, I was trying to get a good sleep. Daylight Savings Time had started, meaning one less hour of rest and I remember having a dream about conducting a band. Soon my swings of the baton were matched to a screeching sound. All of a sudden I realized that the fire alarm had gone off! Full of anxiety, I rushed out of bed, grabbed some clothes and ran out the door. In my frenzied escape, I checked the time and it read nearly 5 A.M. As I stood outside Cable hall with my shadily-clad, sleepy-eyed dorm-mates, I realized that there was no fire. After the fact, I discovered that someone had been trying to cook popcorn and the smoke from their attempt set off the alarm. Once again the system that is intended to save our lives has just caused unimaginable frustration, and as the Brandeis Police allowed us return to our rooms I am sure all of us lost a little faith in our fire detection system.

In the course of my career at Brandeis, I have witnessed many mishaps with the fire system. Usdan has been evacuated, last years Pachanga was made more festive by those flashing strobe lights, and many dorms and buildings have had the misfortune of tripping the alarms. In addition, the sprinkler systems have misfired time and time again. Last year, East was subject to a deluge the likes of which have not been seen since the times of Noah, and a student received a concussion from being thrown against the wall. Last month, Ziv was hit as a sprinkler was once again set off. This has brought injury, destruction, and much inconvenience;

where is the fire. In fact, I bet that in the history of this university there has never been a major fire;

though there have been dozens of false alarms, no catastrophe has occurred.

A likely side effect of all these false alarms is the fact that people just dont take alarms seriously any more. I know a person who said he stayed in bed during the alarm and didnt even move, knowing that the alarms were more than likely just false. People have been conditioned not to fear the noise of the alarms, but be angered by them. In fact, Id almost place fire alarms in the category of car alarms as they both go off at incessant times and almost never because a real problem is occurring. Whenever a car alarm goes off, people dont rush to the scene but feel mad at the inconvenience being caused, and on-campus fire alarms cause the same sentiments.
This lack of fear and almost annoyance at alarms is dangerous and probably undermines the purpose of these devices in the first place. What would happen if there was a real emergency that required immediate action? People would probably take their time putting on clothes like I did, or just sleep through the whole event. This action is dangerous to say the least. Whereas fire alarms were originally intended as an alert, their abilities have been diminished through dozens of false alarms. Now they cant even perform their jobs, and might even bring a false sense of security to our campus. Just as the boy who cried wolf could not receive assistance in his time of crisis, I doubt that these devices can succeed;

if our preconditioned reaction is merely annoyance, won't we simply be annoyed?

As I stood outside Cable in my underwear that night, many thoughts rushed through my head. I thought of the stupidity of my dorm mates and the inconvenience they have caused. I was pensive over the future of fire detection systems and wondered if they would work in the event of a real emergency. I also thought about those sprinkler heads and the fact that they are way too close for comfort when dealing with the taller individuals on this campus! If I should ever accidentally set one of those things off, Id hope that Id get a little clemency from the angry, annoyed people and the BranPo at 5 o'clock in the morning!