A little more than a month ago, my girlfriend and I stumbled out of New Hall’s entrance still sleepy despite the obnoxious fire alarm drilling into our ears. I suspected we were the last ones out of the building, so I readied my girlfriend for the inevitable flack we would face from the community facilitator and University Police officer standing sentinel in front of the door. They chastised us: What took you so long? This is a real fire drill. I only partially lied, We slept through it, (we had tried to and failed), then crossed the street and took my place in an all too familiar gathering of college students in pajamas and underwear, sporting bed-head and morning breath.
I would like to thank the CF and officer. That was a real alarm – a smoking cigarette in the basement set it off – and they had no way of knowing the potential severity of the situation. Although a smoldering cigarette may seem like a weak trigger to most students, it is a tangible excuse that separates this drill from a series of phantom fire alarms that have become synonymous with New Hall. A false alarm had occurred on a Saturday evening, not one week before the event, and another went off Friday, April 7, at about 8:30 a.m. This most recent alarm blared just long enough to raise the sleeping masses of our building and rob them of any realistic chance to go back to bed on a Friday morning.
I have lived in New Hall; GW’s still newest building for three years. I guarantee there have been at least five false alarms in each of those years, and I only remember one instance where the integrity of the building was seriously threatened (the sprinkler incident of last year). Although GW strangely still calls this building New Hall some three years after its dedication, it is ridiculous to blame these over-sensitive fire alarms on system bugs or newness. I also don’t buy that students are continually setting them off, because you never hear about 9 a.m. fire alarms in Thurston, J Street, or any academic building – certainly not four times in a semester.
I won’t take the tired tack and whine about how much I’m paying to live here for six months, and tuition is so high, and all that noise. I just want to know when fire drills are real because I and a lot of other residents are losing faith. The New Hall staff should explain each alarm in a way that will realistically reach the students. Not by scheduling an 8 p.m. meeting in the community room, but by sending e-mails and posting explanations on the building’s entrance. The staff has done well to announce fire alarm tests, but they seldom explain fire alarm miscues except by word of mouth to angry students pouring back into the building.
I’m tired of sacrificing my sleep and throwing off my circadian rhythm for a whole week because of pointless alarms. Residence hall fire safety gained national attention with the Seton Hall University tragedy this year, and it should be enforced. Still, after three years of false alarms, New Hall cannot expect students to come running out the door when the bell rings. It may sound irrational, but fellow New Hall veterans will understand why I’m ready to die for my sleep.
-The writer is a senior majoring in English.
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This article appeared in the April 10, 2000 issue of the Hatchet.