String of falsely pulled fire alarms plague row houses

Jan. 27, 2013, 11:48 p.m.
(WYATT ROY/The Stanford Daily)
(WYATT ROY/The Stanford Daily)

Row houses have been plagued by maliciously pulled fire alarms this quarter, as two incidents at the start of 2013 complemented seven such incidents recorded in 2012.

According to Stanford Fire Marshal Joseph Leung, a fire alarm qualifies as a malicious pull if the alarm is “actively and purposefully pulled when there is no emergency.” In total, 14 alarms were pulled maliciously during the 2012 calendar year.

According to Zac Sergeant, assistant director of Residential Education (ResEd), his department has been combating the issue of intentionally pulled fire alarms for years, working alongside Residential & Dining Enterprises, the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) and Row house staff members.

“It’s dangerous because [when an alarm is intentionally pulled], you have all these resources out and if it’s done multiple times in the same evening, all of a sudden you have fire department crews all over campus,” he said. “In the case of a real emergency, that becomes problematic.”

SUDPS spokesperson Bill Larson added that false alarms are dangerous because of the potential for personal injuries during a building evacuation.

“When you pull a fire alarm, you could have people go into a panic,” Larson said. People could trip or fall—someone could get hurt.”

Sergeant said that Row houses have encountered issues in the past in which someone pulled an alarm at one end of the house in order to steal belongings from residents’ rooms while everybody else evacuated.

Some houses, such as Phi Kappa Psi, are installing different fire alarms that are designed to be more difficult to pull—without being impossible to trigger in case of emergency.

Dane Bratz ’13, a resident assistant (RA) in Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), said that his fraternity was looking into installing new fire alarms protected with glass that could be broken in the case of a real fire.

“We really enjoy throwing events that we can open up to the greater community, but with more and more of these incidents happening, it makes us a bit more reluctant to do so,” Bratz said.

If a fire alarm is intentionally pulled when there is no smoke or fire present, Student Housing can fine the responsible person $500. Additionally, the district attorney may decide to press charges; falsely pulling a fire alarm is classified as a misdemeanor and could result in criminal consequences.

However, it can be extremely difficult to identify the person who pulled the fire alarm in situations such as crowded parties.

If a responsible person is not found, the house where the alarm was pulled is responsible for the $500 fine, which can cause major financial burdens for houses that throw parties. According to Amanda Rodriguez, assistant director of ResEd, the email listserv for Row RAs has served as an alert system throughout the Row when a house’s fire alarm is maliciously pulled.

“It’s been kind of hit-and-miss in the past couple of years,” Rodriguez said. “Sometimes they [Row houses] can find the person who was responsible, but a lot of the time they can’t.”

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