Fire alarm dye smokes out malicious pulls

Residences see decrease in prank alarms after prevention project

Six malicious activiations in 2018 were fire alarms alone.
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Students pulling residence fire alarms are facing an unexpected consequence: a bright blue hand.
 
Until this year, a malicious fire alarm activation occurred, on average, once every eight days in Queen’s residences. In response, using 0.2 per cent of its annual budget, Residence Society installed tamper dye on hundreds of fire alarms across its buildings this year. 
 
Tamper dye, which is extremely difficult to remove, stains the hands of the person activating the alarm, making them easy to identify. If a person tries to wash the tamper dye off with water, it turns bright blue and spreads, increasing the chance of identification.
 
The average fire alarm acitivation is now once every 30 days. 
 
“Malicious fire alarm pulls occur each year, which is not only costly and an inconvenience, but ultimately a safety risk to students and the Kingston community,” ResSoc President Michael Coldwell wrote in a statement to The Journal. “Dealing with false alarms is an arduous process that takes time, money, and allocation of resources.”
 
The number of malicious activations of fire alarms and extinguishers in residences increased from seven to 29 between 2015 and 2018. Six of the 29 malicious activations in 2018 were for fire alarms alone. 
 
Coldwell wrote ResSoc recognized this increased number of malicious pulls at the beginning of the school year, causing the Society to team up with Residence Life and Queen’s Environmental Health and Safety to install the dye in the majority of residence pull stations. 
 
The tamper dye was advertised to students through posters and social media once installed.
 
“We believe that tying in this initiative with the educational piece has been why it has proved successful,” Coldwell wrote. He added the initiative’s small up-front costs and long-term savings make the tamper dye installations “well worth the cost.”
 
“We saw this as a win-win in terms of student wellness, community safety, and fiscal responsibility,” he wrote. 
 
Coldwell also wrote that, because the tamper dye is expected to last several years, it’s a sustainable solution. 
 
According to Residence Life Director Kate Murray, there was still active dye on some of the fire alarms treated with tamper dye eight years ago. 
 
She also cited the installations of Stopper II’s last fall as a “major deterrent to malicious pull stations activations” in a statement to The Journal.
 
Stopper II’s are translucent covers placed over pull stations to add an extra layer of deterrence for individuals activating fire alarms. To get to the actual fire alarm, the cover has to be opened.
 
“When opened there is a loud, high-pitched alarm, which tends to scare people,” Murray wrote. 
 
If the Stopper II’s alarm deters a malicious pull, Kingston Fire and Rescue won’t come to the scene and  Residence Life will avoid getting billed for an unnecessary activation.
 
Kingston Fire and Rescue gives everyone a clean slate at the beginning of each year, and the first time a false alarm occurs, buildings get off with a warning.
 
The second time, the fee goes up to $250. Every false alarm after that results in a fee of $500. 
 
“We are billed for certain types of activation, for example, malicious tampering of a detector or a fire alarm activation due to a fire extinguisher being discharged maliciously,” Murray wrote. “Some of these activations may be student related activity.”
 
Students still cover malicious activations through their student fees, even if the culprit wasn’t a student. 
 
“Residences operations are self-sustaining and so when residences are billed for a false fire alarm activation, operating costs are collected from fees,” Murray wrote. 
 
Because malicious activations of fire alarms are a criminal code offense, any individual behind a malicious activation falls under the criminal system, in addition to non-academic discipline. 
 
The Residence Conduct system can apply sanctions up to and including removal from residence to individuals who maliciously activate alarms.
 
“One thing that I’d like to emphasize is that, at the end of the day, our biggest priority is safety for students and the community,” Coldwell wrote. “While we believe that we’ve made great strides in improving fire safety this year, we recognize there’s always room for improvement, and are always eager to chatting about new ideas or initiatives to help create a safer culture in residence.”

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