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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Alarms in Village irritate residents

Published: March 10, 2006
Section: News

A fire alarm malfunction which caused an increase in frequency and duration of fire alarms in the Village residence hall has been identified and repaired, according to Vice President of Campus Operations Mark Collins.

The repair came after recent fire alarms in the Village could not be turned off, according to Collins. Whats supposed to happen wasnt happening. Normally Public Safety would come in and silence the system. But on the second and sixth floors of the Village, alarms would come back on periodically even after they were shut off, explained Collins.

The fire alarms had increased in duration in the last two months. We had a series of instances, said Vice President of Campus Operations Mark Collins. We didnt figure out that there was actually something wrong [until] the last one, a few weeks ago.
The frequent fire alarms have been a nuisance for residents of the village. The fire alarms have been going off about twice a month, usually at night (after midnight) here in the Village, said Village Quad resident Matt Niedzwiecki 07.

Another Village resident noted the number of alarms that were occurring in short periods of time. There was recently a cluster of four [fire alarms] within a concentrated period, said Rae Schindler 07.

It was eventually decided by the universitys Electrical Supervisor Joseph Castronovo that the alarms were not shutting off because of defective strobes. However, the cause of the problem was not immediately apparent. We were getting the wrong information back, said Castronovo. The final time it happened we figured out that there was something wrong. I went over to the Village and spent an hour there and figured out the problem: the strobes on the second and sixth floor were defective.
The issue has now been fixed, according to Collins. New strobes have been ordered and the issue has been resolved. These fire alarms are no longer a common occurrence, states Collins.

Before the electrical problem was identified, students received different information from the Department of Residence Life as to why the alarms could not be turned off. Residents were told that union electricians were necessary to turn off the alarms and that sometimes the electricians on duty were located far from Brandeis. Our quad director explained to us that they are union electricians and so they must rotate coverage: one is in Waltham, one is somewhere else nearby, and one is in New Hampshire, said Niedzwiecki.

The Village Quad Senator, Mara S. Blumenthal, wrote in a weekly progress report a conversation she had with the Village Quad Director. The reason the lights keep flashing after the fire alarm has been shut off is because an electrician needs to turn the alarm off. There is no electrician on campus 24 hours a day and they cannot train anybody to turn the alarm off for union reasons, wrote Blumenthal.

Mark Collins did not completely deny this, but cited the broken strobes as the cause of the recent fire alarm problems. He explained: This issue was caused by malfunctioning strobes. Normally the alarms in the hall can be silenced by [facilities]. The alarms in the students rooms on the other hand do require a licensed electrician to shut them off. Thats just how the system works.

Castronovo added: The smoke detectors in the students rooms are different from those in the common areas.

Mark Collins explained the reasoning behind the system. The alarms in the students rooms go off very rarely. This has not been the case the past few times. There has to be something actually wrong happening to make them go off. We have to make sure the alarm sounds and the student wakes up if there is a fire going on in the room.

Collins acknowledged that the system is not perfect and hopes that something can be done to improve it. It is true that it can take a long time to shut the alarm off. We are looking for options as to what can be done to minimize the time it takes to shut the alarm off. The last thing we want is a student who is kept up all night because of an accidental fire alarm.