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No fire in 94% of Ohio State fire alarms

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The sound of a fire alarm is something many students living in residence halls dread.
Fire alarms can be set off by something as simple as burnt food in the microwave or a smoking hair straightener, and with thousands of students living together across campus, evacuations are bound to happen during the course of an academic year.
From move-in day Aug. 19 until Oct. 20, 61 of the 65 fire alarms that have been set off and responded to by Columbus Division of Fire have been caused by burnt food, maintenance work, hot showers and hair straighteners, according to fire-related incidents data from Ohio State fire prevention.
That’s roughly 94 percent of signaled alarms. However, the university isn’t charged any money for Columbus Fire responding if there isn’t a real emergency.
Eleven of those 65 alarms were signaled in residence halls between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., which is about 17 percent of total signaled alarms. However residents did not have to evacuate for all of those.
At Indiana University, about 95 percent of alarms were caused by similar “occupant activity,” said Mel Lane, assistant director in IU’s Office of Insurance, Loss Control and Claims. He said “very few” alarms go off anytime between midnight and the early hours of the morning.
At Northwestern University, 25 of the 29 signaled alarms since its Sept. 20 move-in day were caused by construction and maintenance, as well as burnt food, according to data from the Office of Risk Management at NU. That’s 86 percent, a lower percentage compared to OSU, but still a vast majority. Only four of the alarms sounded between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., about 14 percent.
Of the 22 alarms signaled at the University of Cincinnati this year, data from UC’s Department of Public Safety Emergency Services suggests that all were false alarms. Ten of 22 went off between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., about 45 percent of alarms.
At OSU, the policy is that an alarm can’t be canceled until a public safety official, anyone from a police officer to a Columbus firefighter, has responded to the scene and declared that it can be cleared.
However, Bob Armstrong, director of Emergency Management and Fire Prevention at OSU, said Columbus Division of Fire does not bill the university when it responds to false alarms.
Some students in residence halls this year have experienced the extensive procedure that happens when an alarm goes off, even just over burnt popcorn.
“One of the residents in Halloran (Hall) burnt their popcorn and then they set off the fire alarm, which in turn set off the alarm in Barrett House, alerting the other RAs in the other buildings … We had to call the fire department to come and from there we had to call our hall director and our resident manager,” said Sebastian Mejia, a first-year in biology. “No one evacuated, but we did call the RAs to check out the situation.”
However, he said it wasn’t really much of a problem.
“I was indifferent just cause it was just procedure so it wasn’t too bad, and I was glad to hear it was popcorn and not something more drastic,” Mejia added.
Some older students remember fire alarms going off for non-safety related reasons in their time in the residence halls.
“We had someone on our floor my freshman year who cooked food for too long really late at night and it set off the alarm,” said Matt Crowley, a third-year in nursing. “My roommate also, he set it off with the popcorn once.”
Other students remember the inconveniences of a false alarm.
“My freshman year, it was the middle of the night, and someone I’m guessing who was drunk … pulled the fire alarm,” said Stephanie Boehm, a third-year in actuarial science. “No one knew that’s why it went off, so everyone had to evacuate the building and wait outside in the cold for the squad or whatever to come.”
Boehm said she was annoyed because most residents were “asleep and we were all frantic to try to get out of the building because we thought there was an actual fire.”
Other students don’t remember ever having experienced a fire alarm besides a drill.
“I think (there were) just drills,” said Alison Webster, a second-year in biochemistry.

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