HOVA residents caught sleeping during evacuation

More than 100 residents of the Hall on Virginia Avenue must attend fire safety sessions after they did not evacuate HOVA when a fire alarm was triggered last week, Community Living and Learning Center administrators said.

The fire alarm was caused by a release of steam in an elevator shaft, resulting in an early morning evacuation of the building Sept. 27.

The residents received citations after they were rousted from bed at 7:45 a.m. by community facilitators. Many students didn’t leave until nearly 15 minutes after the bell sounded, said Vania Smith, the community director in charge of HOVA.

“There were too many students who did not heed the fire bells,” Smith said. “Over 100 students were documented for not leaving.”

Although the steam posed no threat to students, a prompt evacuation was expected because it was an actual alarm and not a drill, Smith said. A drill was conducted Sept. 23, when many students were at class, she said.

Many students who received citations said they were not intentionally disobeying fire alarm procedure.

“I never heard (the fire alarm),” HOVA resident Christine Kelly said. “We woke up to a CF banging on the door.”

Because the fire alarm failed to wake many HOVA residents, some students said their citations are a reflection of University negligence rather than students’ irresponsibility.

“I think it is so completely unfair that this school has a horribly ineffective fire alarm system that we can sleep through it,” HOVA resident Heather Murphy said. “It’s ridiculous that we get in trouble for something that’s completely not our fault.”

Other residents who said they had no trouble following procedure were less sympathetic to the excuses of their neighbors.

“It’s not that complicated,” said Sarah Cohen, a student who was not cited. Cohen said the sound of the alarm was faint, comparable to that of an alarm clock.

Eric Hougen, safety manager for the Office of Risk Management, said the bells in HOVA must be re-evaluated.

“There needs to be a sound-level survey,” Hougen said.

Some students said they were concerned that administrators failed to contact the fire department.

“I would have liked to have seen a little more concern from the University,” resident Alex Ratzlaff said.

Smith said an engineer from Trammell Crow Company evaluated the situation and the University Police Department assisted in the evacuation. Smith said she and other officials deemed outside assistance unnecessary because there was no actual fire.

Helen Diaz, director of Residence Hall Operations for the Community Living and Learning Center, said her office coordinates fire drills with University Police, Risk Management and Facilities Management. Statistics are compiled on how long it takes a building to evacuate.

“Our goal is student safety and their well-being,” she said. “We’re not out to get people.”

Fire drills take place every semester in all residence halls. So far this year, the 100 HOVA citations from the Sept. 27 evacuation mark a high point for freshman residence halls.

Thurston Hall has not experienced any significant problems with fire alarm procedure in its last drill, said Rebecca Sawyer, manager of Freshman Services.

“The drill really went really well,” she said. “Fifteen were cited for leaving after a certain amount of time.”

Anna Cenatiempo, the community director in charge of Mitchell Hall, said her hall had 10 to 15 students who came out late during its drill.

“Our community facilitators try to talk with the residents as much as possible about fire safety, but sometimes they don’t think it’s important,” said Michael Weaver, community director in charge Lafayette and Strong halls.

“Students need to know that when an alarm goes off it’s only for their protection,” Cenatiempo said.

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