Campus fires raise alarm bells

Construction sites mean extra precautions are necessary

Fire Inspector Delbert Blakney said the fire department has weekly meeting with contractors.
Fire Inspector Delbert Blakney said the fire department has weekly meeting with contractors.
Firefighters never determined the source of the smoke in Stauffer Library last week.
Firefighters never determined the source of the smoke in Stauffer Library last week.

Two fire-alarm evacuations in the past week have raised concerns about fire safety as Queen’s campus undergoes construction.

On Sunday night, an unattended pan of grease started a fire in the in the JDUC International Centre. Earlier in the week, Stauffer Library was evacuated after smoke was discovered near the basement. This summer, a faulty desk fan caused a fire in the AMS General Manager Claude Sherren’s office, costing an estimated $20,000 to $30,000 in damage.

Construction has added to the congestion of pedestrian traffic, leading to potential confusion and chaos in the midst of an emergency. “The main issue is getting people out of the building,” said JDUC Director Bob Burge. Construction on University Avenue and Union Street has limited emergency access to the JDUC, but Burge said extra precautions have been taken. “We always make sure that exits to the building aren’t being blocked. If people are able to get out, then the fire and police departments are able to get in,” he said.

Walk rounds are conducted daily in the JDUC to ensure accessibility in an emergency situation. Burge said people should watch where they’re going when navigating construction.

“Try not to look at the pavement; look up, look around,” he said. “Many people are unaware of construction signs and zones, and many people are text messaging.” Stauffer business officer Nancy Petri said factors other than construction need to be taken. It’s essential students take alarms and evacuation procedure seriously, Petri said.

“The hardest thing is getting people out of the building. People don’t think it’s necessary,” she said.

“People tend to leave the way they came in, instead of from fire exits along the perimeter of the building.” Petri also said MP3 players make it difficult for security officers to keep students out of the building. “Many people are plugged into their iPods. Since there is no external alarm [at Stauffer], people don’t register that there’s an evacuation, and try to go into the building anyway.”

During last week’s fire scare, Petri said, Stauffer staff saw people gathering belongings up to 15 minutes after the alarm had sounded. Fire Inspector Delbert Blakney said the Kingston fire department has been working to ensure construction doesn’t pose fire safety issues.

“We’ve been working closely with the general contractors, and we’ve had weekly site meetings throughout the construction,” he said.

To ensure temporary water supplies are provided to buildings for fire protection while contractors temporarily disconnect normal water mains, temporary fire hydrants were installed.

“We made sure that buildings had water. From an access perspective, we had to work closely with our fire crews,” he said.

“Right now, the only issues are getting the roads open,” he said.

Blakney said there are no additional fire safety risks inherent in a university setting.

“There are various things that can happen, and in those cases there are special fire prevention measures put in place,” he said.

“We do want to make sure that all of the exits are maintained, so there are no blocked stairwells or fire exits. We don’t want to have large quantities of combustible materials stored.”

He said for a large building like Stauffer, the fire department makes sure plans are brought up to date on building and fire codes. The fire department looks at options such as installing sprinkler systems, emergency lighting and fire extinguishers.

“When a fire creates heat, sprinklers have different temperature ratings,” he said.

“When the ceiling gets to that temperature, that particular sprinkler would activate.”

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