Members of the Notre Dame and Saint Mary's communities reflect on fire safety. How safe are the University and College?
By MEG DADAY
The piercing sound of a fire alarm reverberated throughout junior Ryan Flanagan's room in O'Neill Hall early this year. As Flanagan evacuated the building for the first fire drill of the year, students living on the third and fourth floors remained undisturbed until hall staff directed them out of the building. Had there been an actual fire, these students might not have escaped.
"They did some work to install alarms in each room, but on the fourth floor they didn't go off at all and on the third floor only some went off," said Father John Herman, rector of O'Neill Hall. "The fire department is working on getting those up and running. I think we're moving in the right direction."
Before alarms were placed in each room, the four Golf Quad dorms had an alert system that announced to students in a calm, quiet voice, "There is an emergency in the building. Please find the nearest exit," from alarm speakers in the hallways. If their door was closed or they had the TV or stereo playing loudly, students could not hear the alarm.
"It still worked, but the RA's had to pound on your doors," said Welsh Family Hall junior Rachel Willcox. "There were always instances where people didn't get out."
Flanagan agreed, "People who have trouble waking up for class would not have heard them. With the new ones in the rooms, it's a lot louder so it shouldn't be a problem."
"We had an opportunity to upgrade the system, so we did," University Fire Chief John Antonucci said. "The University has always been a very proactive system. We try to move forward in order to protect students."
The University had been planning to upgrade the fire protection and alert system for about two years, but last winter, the project became a priority after three students died in a residence hall fire at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.
"Residence hall fires have been on the increase," said Antonucci. "Seton Hall brought to life problems that exist throughout the country."
Sister Kathleen Beatty, Lyons Hall rector, agreed. "They really want this place to be top-notch as far as fire protection. Seton Hall was a wake-up call for everybody. A huge tragedy makes people look at their own systems."
This summer, not only were the ineffective voice systems in the Golf Quad dorms supplemented with blaring alarms in each room above the door, but new fire protection systems were installed in seven residence halls. Pangborn, Fisher, Lyons, Howard, and Breen-Philips received new alarms and new sprinkler systems; Walsh had a new alarm system installed and Knott and Siegfried got sprinklers in each room. According to Antonucci, by the fall of 2001, every dorm on campus will have a sprinkler in each room.
Antonucci added that the heat-sensitive sprinklers will deposit between 20 and 30 gallons of water per minute into the room when the temperature reaches around150 to165 degrees. Until smoke reaches the hallway, however, the only the sprinkler in the room where the fire originates will be activated.
"The new system is much more sensitive overall than the old one," Beatty said.
At Saint Mary's, sprinkler systems are in place in every room, in every residence hall except McCandless Hall. "I think most institutions emphasize fire safety, but our policy has always been the same," said Dana North, director of Residence Life at Saint Mary's College. "I think students became more aware of it after Seton Hall and I think parents became more aware of it, too."
Because of the alert systems, sprinklers, fire drills, and other precautions taken by the University to educate students about fire safety, Dillon Hall junior Colin Grady feels confident he would escape unharmed if there were ever a real fire in Dillon Hall, "I know the rules. Stop, drop, and roll."
All News Stories for Wednesday, September 20, 2000