Firefighters respond to Neihardt Hall fire alarm

False alarm raises questions about sensitive equipment in the dorms

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Melissa Norris, Staff Writer

When an alarm goes off, whether it be for a burnt bag of popcorn or a lightning strike, Residence Life and the Wayne Fire Department are looking out for students’ safety.

Only four weeks into the semester, the fire department has been on campus three times—twice in the same day.

On Monday, Sept. 1, a lightning storm set off the fire alarms in the attic of Connell Hall. Earlier that same day, an alarm went off in Neihardt Hall which was attributed to a bag of microwave popcorn.

Again last Wednesday, another late morning alarm sounded, this one also from something cooking in the microwave.

“We can’t confirm the food, but we think it was popcorn again,” Director of Residence Life Matthew Weekley said. “We’re making sure it’s not an overly sensitive sensor above the microwave. Nothing caught on fire, though.”

In fact, the last fire in a Wayne State College dorm happened about three years ago when a heater caught fire. The room itself wasn’t damaged and the fire was taken care of quickly with a fire extinguisher.

Of course, that doesn’t prevent Residence Life from being on their guard about student safety.

Resident assistants are given specific protocols on how to deal with a fire in the dorms.

“It’s about safety first. What staff is instructed to do is, in a calm directive manner, to evacuate students and stay cool and calm, making sure people are evacuated while they themselves are leaving,” Weekley said.

R.A.s have an evacuation bag with a first aid kit and supplies to take down names.

During a drill it is a little different, as R.A.s key into the rooms and make sure they are secure. This is a state-mandated practice.

But what are the usual reasons alarms go off in the dorms?

“Popcorn is a big one, because it smokes so quickly. Cooking is the biggest cause. Sometimes we can run into issues with curling irons, but most times it’s cooking,” Weekley said.

Even with all the alarms going off this school year, there is still a need for drills. Once a semester, fall and spring, every dorm is tested.

Neihardt happened to have a drill scheduled late at night on Sept. 10, the same day the alarm went off.

Students usually don’t know the difference between a drill and an alarm incident.

“Basically it’s usually early morning or late at night. Every room has its own alarm and it kind of scares the crap out of you. You grab your keys, you run downstairs and out the nearest exit and wait for the fire trucks to arrive,” senior journalism major Alissa Woockman said. “It’s traumatizing when it happens freshman year, it seems like every week. Now I’m used to it. ‘Oh it’s just another drill, I’ll just go in when they tell me to.’”

Once outside, students group together, wait for the fire trucks to arrive and gossip about what could have caused the alarm to go off, or if it’s just another drill.

It’s at this point when the Wayne Fire Department steps in to ensure student safety.

“When the alarms go off, we will go off. We want to be 100 percent sure it isn’t a false alarm,” Fire Chief Phil Monahan said.

The Wayne Fire Department is made up of volunteers. Because most of the volunteers work in town, it only takes the firefighters an average of seven minutes to respond to a call anywhere in town.

“Dispatch gets the notification from the power plant. They notify us. Everyone is a volunteer. We leave our jobs and take the city trucks,” Monahan said. “I take the chief’s vehicle. Then we send a group of two in to investigate and check out the alarm.”

On average, an alarm will go off once or twice a week, most of which are drills. According to Monahan, the amount of false alarms the fire department deals with each year is on the decline.

What used to be 75 calls to the fire department a year is now down to 20-30.

“The college has gotten a lot better about notifying us when they have maintenance and construction. They have to tell Campus Security, the power plant and dispatch,” the fire chief said.

While the numbers are down, WSC fire alarms are particularly sensitive. Too many dust particles can set them off. However, this doesn’t bother the fire department.

“You want them sensitive, for protection,” Monahan said.

• Turn off/unplug your appliances when you leave the room.
• Don’t leave straighteners and curling irons unattended or near flammable objects/materials.
• Don’t leave the room when you are cooking popcorn or any other food.
• At the first sign of smoke or smell, open a window, turn on a fan and get some air flow.
• Be careful with extension cords. Don’t plug an extension cord into an extension cord.
• Follow the Wayne State list of prohibited items: no candles, incense, space heaters or other flammable items are allowed in the dorms.
• The only cooking supplies allowed in the dorms are coffee makers, popcorn poppers and small microwaves.