Friday, September 19, 2008

Whoops, You Just Lit The School On Fire

On Monday afternoon at approximately 1:20pm, students at Nipissing University and Canadore College were given an extensive 40 minute break from their classes and other activities that they were doing. Someone pulled the fire alarm. I should know. I was at Nipissing University at the time.

Well, that is not entirely true. I'm not sure if someone pulled the alarm (by accident or not) or if the loud sounding buzzer was set off by something else. But, I was in a class at the time. Having not experienced a fire alarm situation since high school, I was able to both participate and observe the situation at hand. Here is a brief breakdown of how it went:

Fire alarm sounds. Not unlike a shrieking banshee, the alarm was beyond loud.

Students in my class begin to look at each other. First with the look on their faces of "is that the effing fire alarm?" followed quickly by "yup, that's the fire alarm so we better stand up."

It is this point of the situation that baffled me the most. Instead of quickly walking out into the hallway and to the nearest exit after hearing the alarm, what did my fellow colleagues do? Pick up their stuff, of course! This includes packing away laptops, putting on coats, shutting books and binders, etc.

Students finally proceed into the hallway with what seems like their last worldly possessions in tow aside from the family cat.

Once outside, I recall seeing a sheet of paper posted beside the doorway in the classroom that outlined Emergency Evacuation procedures. My wish is that occupants of the building had read these procedures BEFORE HAND rather than reading them during the actual drill (which I nearly did). The thing about the notice by the door was that it was multiple words in length, perhaps more than 100. It outlined in detail what to do regarding various types of alarms. If I had my way, the sign would read:IF YOU HEAR THE ALARM, GET THE HELL OUT OF THE BUILDING."

1:30pm (approximately)
I saw only 2 firetrucks arrive on scene. However, I was at the side of the building beside the townhouses so I didn't get the greatest view of the big shiny red trucks due to that eye-sore of the brown portable that was blocking my line of sight.

This fire alarm experience has raised a couple of questions for me that perhaps deserve answers:

1) Why are there different levels of alarm? To me, an alarm is an alarm. If you hear it, get out.

2) How come students (and professors!) gathered up their belongings prior to evacuating? You would think that in a potential life-or-death situation that personal belongings would be found at the bottom of the priority totem-pole.

3) What about students who are Deaf and/or Hard of Hearing? There are a couple of flashy lights (in the hallways), but what about elsewhere? What if they don't hear the alarm if they are in the library? A washroom? A residence room?

4) How should students who use wheelchairs be handled in this situation? Elevators are not to be used during emergencies, but what if they are on the 3rd floor of H-wing? How are they to evacuate while still maintaining their sense of dignity? Why are some evacuation signs in classrooms not at eye-level for someone in a wheelchair?

I'm not sure if anyone else has had a similar experience or thoughts, but I'd like to know.


anonymous-9ae said...


I was part of the large crowd outside as well last week. I did actually wonder about students who used wheelchairs being on a higher floor, personally if I were in a wheelchair and an alarm went out I'd hope someone would help me down the stairs rather than have to resort to the elevator (I'm not sure if it stops operating when the alarm sounds and goes to the nearest floor ...) There should be proper construction based on these emergencies.

I also liked how there's an alarm that goes off quickly (like two alarms) then stops, which means keep aware of a possible alarm to evacuate. Huh.

Any word on why the alarm went off now tjat some time has passed?

Anonymous said...

Residence wise: any student with a hearing disability at Nipissing is given a special alarm hooked up in both their bathroom and bedroom. It shows when someone is at the front door (they are the few rooms that have door bells), if their alarm is going off, fire, and theres something else as well (I don't remember what it is). They have strobe lights that flash for this so they can see it and its bright so it will wake them up :)

I know this has nothing to do with the fire drill at the school which I do agree was handled poorly as you would presume the school would practice a drill every once in a while like the residences do.

Also I know this is very late response :)