Volume 12, Number 11 February 4, 2005

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Safety officials worried by people ignoring fire alarms

Campus safety officials say they’re worried about a growing tendency by some students, staff and faculty to refuse to leave buildings when fire alarms sound.

The officials from the Departments of Campus Safety and Health, Safety & Environment (DHSE) say the troubling behaviour has happened a number of times recently.

And they say the consequences of not immediately evacuating a building can be fast and deadly. The officials point to a residence fire at Seton Hall University in New Jersey in 2000 that killed three and injured 58.

Campus Safety recently received several disturbing calls. The callers said a fire alarm was activated in their building and they asked for Facilities Management tradespersons to come and silence the alarm. After being told by the Campus Safety dispatcher to leave the building until a false alarm could be verified, some of the callers refused to leave their building.

“Patrons of a building who do not vacate upon hearing the alarm are endangering the safety of others in the building as well as response personnel,” Campus Safety Director Bob Ferguson says.

“First responders, such as Saskatoon Fire & Protective Services and U of S Campus Safety, must then shift their focus from the cause of the alarm to that of attempting to have people leave the building.”

DHSE Fire Safety Manager Larry Riopka says the industry standard time for alarm testing and maintenance is 10 seconds or less. “If the alarm sounds for longer than 10 seconds, it is to be considered a real alarm and the building is to be evacuated.”

Riopka notes that when scheduled fire-alarm maintenance is being performed on campus, notices are released and posters are placed in high-traffic locations, but the 10-second rule still applies.

“With the new technology used in fire alarms such as a pulsed audible alarm which can cause slight discomfort to your ears after a few minutes, it would be tough to remain in a building much less try to work.”

Yet, Riopka says, “unfortunately it’s not uncommon” for people on campus to refuse to leave, and he notes that in his experience that has included faculty, students and staff.

Riopka reminds supervisors or lecturers that after-hours and weekend alarms should be treated with even greater urgency, and “the person in charge of the event should ensure that the entire group leaves the building safely.”

Ferguson and Riopka urge everyone on campus to follow proper building evacuation procedures when a fire alarm sounds.

The U of S Fire Safety Code can be obtained at: www.usask.ca/dhse/firesafety/.

“To assume that a fire alarm is a false alarm because they always are, leads to a false sense of security,” says Ferguson.

“As was proven in Seton Hall, fire kills quickly.”


For more information, contact communications.office@usask.ca


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