False alarms burn cash

Toronto Fire Services respond to a fire alarm at Pitman Hall on Monday, Oct. 28.

Toronto Fire Services respond to a fire alarm at Pitman Hall on Monday, Oct. 28. (Mohamed Omar / Ryersonian Staff

An abnormal number of fire alarms were set off across campus last week, interrupting everything from study sessions to midterm exams, and while most of them were drills, at least 10 were false and could cost the university more than $10,000.

Kerri Bailey, manager of finance and strategic planning at Ryerson’s campus facilities and sustainability department, said glitches and odd circumstance triggered eight of the 10 false alarms from Oct. 7 to 25.
Toronto Fire Services told The Ryersonian it charges institutions $410 per vehicle for every hour when addressing malicious fire alarms, or those pulled for no legitimate reason.

Historically, they’ve charged Ryerson $1,230 for every alarm response, Bailey said in an email.

In several cases, most of the fees can be waived if the institution is making efforts to prevent future malicious alarms, according to Toronto fire Capt. David Eckerman.

Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said he doesn’t know how the school could mitigate the number of false fire alarms, but added that the fees aren’t unfair.

“Four hundred dollars a truck is cheap,” Levy said.

But Eckerman says he worries false alarms could lead to problems in the future.

“Obviously if people become too complacent then they’ll react improperly when there’s an actual fire,” he said.

“They’ll be unsafe and wait at their desks for some secondary alert instead of leaving immediately.”

Malicious fire alarms could also divert fire department resources from other potential fires. In 2010, a false alarm at a Queen’s University residence building led to a fatality because trucks were too preoccupied on campus to respond to “a life and death situation,” according to an article in the Queen’s Journal, the university’s student newspaper.

The scenarios that led to the false alarms at Ryerson range from coincidence to poor planning. Exhaust from Pitman Hall’s emergency generator activated the alarm on Oct. 7 around noon.

Twelve days later a Pitman Hall resident attempted to roast chestnuts on a grill, which triggered the smoke detector. Various alarms in Kerr Hall went off due to elevated heat from Oct. 18 to 22.
While drills are planned and cheaper, students say they can still come at a bad time.

Many have been dragged out of class during midterm exams early in the morning.

“I found it weird that they would do it when the building was less full,” said Daniel DaSilva, a third-year accounting student who was on the third floor of TRSM when the alarm went off.
“It was kind of a hassle.”

Second-year nursing student Sallie Jiang was nearly done her pathology midterm when the fire alarm went off. Once they were outside the Podium building, their professor said the exam would have to be rescheduled.
“It’s extra study time,” she said. “To be honest I wouldn’t have done well.”

Only two of the alarms set off from Oct. 7 to 23 were potentially malicious. On Oct. 23, noise blasted through the Ted Rogers school of management when someone triggered an alarm in the Eaton Centre. The mall’s parent company, Cadillac Fairview, will foot that bill. No one knows why the parking garage alarm went off on Oct. 18 at 5:15 p.m. All other alarms were fire drills.

Several students confused the drills for people trying to escape midterm exams.

“It’s the oldest trick in the book,” said Igor Ljaskevic, 24, a master of engineering student at Ryerson.

“That’s the first thing people think of doing when they’re trying to escape an exam, but I don’t think it will work.”

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