Sounding the alarm: fire safety at GW

You’re about to step into the shower when you hear it. That alarm, ringing so loudly your hands immediately go to your ears. It’s a fire alarm.

You might complain about fire drills – but the consequences of ignoring a fire alarm can be serious, according to University Police Chief Dolores Stafford.

Two fire drills are conducted every year in each sophomore, junior and senior residence hall, and four times in freshman buildings, Stafford said in an e-mail.

According to Stafford, fire drills are necessary to educate students about the evacuation procedures conveniently mapped out on the back of most residence hall room doors. Electronic devices, such as the elevators, are immediately shut off when an alarm is activated.

From Jan. 2009 to Nov. 2009 there were 20 reported fires in residence halls – the majority of which were caused by small oven fires, according to the official fire log found on the University Policy Department’s Web site.

For some students, though, repetitive fire alarms dumb down the message.

“I think people try to follow the rules but when there are so many [fire drills], it’s kind of like crying wolf and people won’t leave,” junior Ashley Norred said.

Others said although they feel like they know the procedures well, safety is never far from their minds.

“I feel like I have a sufficient knowledge of how to get out of the building,” Conor MacCaffrey, a junior, said. “But after the Schenley fire, I don’t think any of us take [safety precautions] for granted.”

In 2008, a fire erupted in Schenley Hall that injured no one but completely destroyed an entire room.

As for students who choose to pull a fire alarm as part of a prank, Stafford warned, they can face punishment as serious as arrest.

“These [students] can be arrested, as it is a violation of D.C. Criminal Code. They are also sanctioned through [Student Judicial Services],” Stafford said.

Stafford cautioned students against staying in their rooms when a fire alarm sounds, as they can also face consequences if identified.

“GW police and Housing Staff can open doors to rooms for health and safety reasons. If students are identified who have not evacuated, GWPD writes a report and they are sanctioned through SJS,” Stafford said.

Campus fires have killed 99 college students across the United States within the past decade, according to the Center for Campus Fire Safety’s Web site.

Ken Crosswhite, a public information offficer for the D.C. Fire Department, said he believes that most residence hall fires start due to carelessness and potentially dangerous cooking gadgets.

Crosswhite recommended that students refrain from “unsafe cooking, halogen lamps and space heaters,” especially “after a hard night of partying.”

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