Ringing the alarm

Malicious fire alarms on the rise in residence

Since Sept. 1 there have been 25 malicious fire alarms, 14 of which occurred in Victoria Hall.
Since Sept. 1 there have been 25 malicious fire alarms, 14 of which occurred in Victoria Hall.

The number of malicious fire alarms pulled in residence has increased again this year, according to Assistant Dean of Students (Diversity Programs, Community Development & Residence Life) Arig Girgrah.

After a malicious fire alarm last week, Residence Life sent out an email to residence dons.

“It is 1:45 a.m. and Vic Hall just got in from a fire alarm where the [Kingston] Fire and Rescue Department informed us that the last time they were called to our building (which has had at least one maliciously pulled alarm nearly every day for over a week now), they were pulled away from a fatality to address it,” the email said.

Residence Life hires fulltime co-ordinators who Girgrah said sent the email. She said it was sent so everyone could get a better grasp on the severity of the alarm system.

“[There are] individuals that may feel it’s a joke or a prank,” she said. “[But] the department was pulled away from a life and death situation to respond to that call.

“Up until this point [since Sept. 1], there have been 25 malicious pulls,” she said. “Looking over the last three years, there’s been anywhere between seven and 16 from September to [the end of] November.” Girgrah said 14 of the 25 malicious fire alarms were pulled at Victoria Hall.

“We should look at the demographics there,” she said. “Part of the issue is that it’s one of the largest residences.”

While the number of malicious alarms is up from last year at this point, the 2009 calendar year marked an all time high with 66 malicious alarms as opposed to 27 in the previous year.

Girgrah said it’s unacceptable for individuals to pull fire alarms when there isn’t a real threat.

“Our fire and rescue services are there for a reason and when they get pulled … it jeopardizes [lives],” she said, adding that it also causes harm to students’ sleep patterns.

“It’s a real distraction and inconvenience for students,” she said.

Another danger of malicious fire alarms is desensitization, Girgrah said. The Fire Department always responds but after too many alarms students stop responding, putting them at risk in the case of a real fire.

Girgrah said Residence Life has initiatives in place to quell the number of malicious fire alarms. A working group in Student Affairs was formed this year to look at malicious fire alarms in residences. Queen’s also worked with the Fire and Rescue Department to create an online video, warning students of the risks involved with pulling a fire alarm maliciously. The video was shown during Orientation Week.

“I think it’s a multi-pronged approach,” she said, adding that there are disciplinary measures in place for those who pull fire alarms on purpose.

“We have community standard rules and regulations. A malicious pull is considered a level three offence,” she said.

Level three is considered the highest level of a residence or non-academic offence.

“There are serious consequences up to and including suspension and removal from residence,” she said.

Because it’s so difficult to find out who maliciously pulled a fire alarm, Girgrah said it’s important to create awareness around this issue.

“We need to impress upon students their role in creating a culture or climate that does not condone or accept this,” she said. Fire Inspector Ted Posadowski said false fire alarms risk the lives of fire and rescue personnel as well as other citizens.

“False alarms as a whole to the City of Kingston is a concern to us,” he said. “There could be another emergency. Having our trucks dispatched means driving quickly … accidents do happen.”

Posadowski said almost half of calls reporting fires are false alarms.

“Forty per cent are false alarms,” he said.

Responding to a fire alarm call costs the city $1,000, Posadowski said, adding that malicious fire alarms are a problem across the City and are often pulled at elementary schools and high schools. Nonetheless, there seems to be a concentration of them on campus.

He said students need to understand the impact of pulling an alarm both for the greater good and for themselves. Under the Criminal Code of Canada, pulling a fire alarm in the absence of a fire is an offence and can result in fines or jail time.

“[Students] should know it’s a criminal offence,” he said.

To watch the video “An Alarming Affair,” please go to bit.ly/alarmingaffair

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