Fire alarms in District House affinities evacuate entire building

Media Credit: Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer

District House residents have been evacuated frequently this semester because smoke alarms in affinity rooms set off alarms throughout the building.

District House residents have been interrupted by frequent fire alarms.

District House has been evacuated at least six times this academic year in addition to scheduled fire drills, students living in the building said. Members of the Residence Hall Association said District House’s setup, which includes affinities, leads to the entire building being evacuated when an alarm goes off in an affinity.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said the high number of alarms is caused by students not using their exhaust fans while cooking. Exhaust fans ventilate the kitchen to prevent smoke from triggering the detectors.

Officials plan to reach out to District House residents to teach them about using exhaust fans in their kitchens to decrease the number of times the building must be evacuated, Csellar said. She did not provide details on how GW will educate students.

“Housing has begun to conduct outreach to residents to educate them about this cooking resource in each room,” Csellar said.

Normally, only a room’s individual alarm would be set off, and the entire residence hall would be evacuated if the smoke triggers a second alarm in the building. But one alarm in a District House affinity sets off alarms throughout the building.

D.C. law requires that the building be evacuated when an alarm is triggered in a living space as big as a District House affinity. North affinities, which house 16 people, are 3,541 square feet, and South affinities that house 20 people are 4,211 square feet.

Csellar said incidents are expected in a new residence hall and that students need to adjust to using the exhaust fans.

“As with any new building, there are new items or features that need to be fine-tuned during the initial months,” Csellar said. “We hope after residents have had several months to settle into this new space that the fire alarms will decrease.”

District House is the newest residence hall and cost $130 million to construct. Students pay from $12,500 to $14,230 annually to live in doubles, quads or affinity rooms.

Residence Hall Association President Ali Belinkie and Executive Vice President Rachel Metz said not all residence halls have exhaust fans, so upperclassmen who have used other stoves in their previous rooms need to adjust to these stoves.

“No other residence hall has a space that large, so that’s not a thing in any other residence hall,” Belinkie said.

In late September, RHA sent a general email on kitchen safety to all on-campus residents. RHA has ordered reminder magnets to go above every District House exhaust fan, and the University Police Department offers free kitchen safety courses.

Belinkie said after the first few alarms, the Division of Operation’s Facilities and Campus Development realized the smoke detectors were too close to the stoves. They moved the affinities’ detectors further from the stoves while still being within the maximum range set by D.C. law, she said.

Robin Eberhardt contributed reporting.

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