Campus News

Students smolder over timing of fire drills

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Midterms. A time dreaded by many students. It is hard to balance a normal class schedule while still studying for a variety of tests. Students often dream of a good night’s sleep and relish the very little that they do manage to steal. So, on Oct. 8 when the fire alarms sounded in several dorms across campus, students were not happy.
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Fire alarms pulled students out of bed and out of the dorms during the week of midterms.
"I thought it was a car alarm in my dream so I just laid there for a moment and then after a few seconds I finally realized it wasn’t a car alarm," said junior Britt O'Brien, a resident in Tuckey Hall. "So my roommate and I got up and went out. I tried to be quick but I did not run or anything." Many students reacted similarly. A heavy flow of weary-eyed, grumpy Manges, Tuckey, Shupe and Oakwood residents shuffled out of their dorms when the alarms were tested between 7 and 7:30 a.m. However, not all students managed to make it outside. One dorm failed the drill which means a retest will be initiated on an undeclared day. "Every year we always have at least a few who manage to not make it out of the building which technically is a failure," said Paul Neel, the director of campus safety. "Then we assess and often do retests at places that don’t pass. The two big things that usually cause us to do a retest is if not everyone gets out of the building and also if it truly takes an absorbent amount of time for everyone to get out." When it comes to testing, "each building has its own standards and a lot of that has to do with its size," said Neel. "We expect people to get out of a dorm like Eby a lot quicker than a dorm like Manges or Tuckey. We time students to see how long it takes everyone to get out. The big buildings need to exit in under three minutes." Prior to scheduling fire drills, campus safety first connects with maintenance and student development. "We make sure that the electrician from maintenance is available for the test," said Neel. "The foremost purpose of the drills is to make sure that all the equipment is running properly. This includes making sure all the elevators go to the first floor and open up. Also so that the students and the people in the buildings know what the alarms sound like and can get out. Our biggest concern when testing is the residential buildings." As for planning with student development, they usually try to avoid days when there are big events or visitors on campus. "There’s no perfect time to do a fire drill. A real fire isn’t going to pick a convenient time for everyone. Sometimes scheduling the drills is a bit of a challenge. We want to try and avoid things like Pilot Preview Day when we have a lot of guests, and we have to work around weather too. We want to keep a balance. We don’t want to interfere with things but the tests need to be done," said Neel. While most students would agree that fire drills are important, not all were happy with the timing of the most recent one. "While I do see the importance of having regular fire drills, I'd have to question the choice to put one in the middle of midterms week when students are already kind of stressed out," said O'Brien. "It seemed insensitive to students and what they are concerned about. I think that a good time would have been right before or right after midterms. I know you can't predict when a fire is going to happen, but if you have to plan a fire drill you might as well make it a time a little less inconvenient." Some students like Andrew Reynolds decided to go the extra mile and take action after this incident. "I think it’s absolutely asinine," said Reynolds.  I know there were people up ‘til 2 a.m. studying for midterms the night before and then you have the fire alarm going off that morning. I had scheduled it out so that I would have an extra three hours of sleep that morning to rest up for midterms and that didn't happen." Reynolds is the President of upper-class Student Council and is a voice for many students on this campus. "That's why I was so adamant about introducing legislation into Student Council about it and trying to set up some regulations to see if that would get anywhere because I was just so upset about it", said Reynolds. "My father is a fire fighter. I can't even tell you how many members of my family are firefighters. I get fire safety. I get it. It's important. I'm not trying to make light of the situation. We need to practice. Practice makes perfect. I understand that. But there's a better way to do these things.” "We're actually reaching out to the safety committee on campus about this," said Reynolds. "We want them to know that students are upset about this." When Neel was asked if he was aware that students were upset about the timing of the last fire drill, he responded by saying, "Our intent was not to be disruptive. The reason we chose that week initially was because that week is fire prevention week. We wanted to pair the drill up with that week. The weather didn’t cooperate well that week and that day was really the only day that opened up for us to do it. We had to work around Fall Break, too. Our intent was never to disrupt or make midterms any worse than they already are. No one had mentioned to us that would be midterms week. We were asked by student development to avoid Service Day which we understood, so we skipped over that day. We honestly hadn’t given it a lot of thought and we wouldn’t have done it if we had known it was going to be a big deal." When representatives of student development were asked, they were unable to give comment on the issue at this point. "I think people should take the fire drills a little more seriously and shouldn’t complain so much because it is important and it might actually happen. But at the same time, the people in charge of this should be a little more considerate," said O'Brien. "I was a little irritated, but C'est la vie at Bethel," said O'Brien, which means in French, "that's the life."
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