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Horseplay Threatens Fire Safety

Students Wrongly Set Off Fire Alarms with Fire Extinguisher

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01


Nick Rellas / Heights Staff


"Who wants to be that student?" asked Residential Director George Arey as he described the overarching consequences of the recent horseplay at Ignacio. Boston College continually ranks in the nation's top five for fire safety consistency, yet recent events have posed a serious threat to not just that ranking, but hundreds of lives.

The yearly average number of fire alarms wrongly triggered by students is two—at two months into the academic year, BC has already tied that number. Two weeks ago, a student in Ignacio detached a fire extinguisher and unleashed its contents throughout the residence hall, triggering the fire alarms. Arey recalled the sight—surrounded by firefighters and policemen, 300 sleep-deprived students standing outside at 2 a.m., some worried over the Graduate Readiness Exam that awaited them in just a few hours, others wondering why they were forced out of their beds.

Donald Wood and Thomas Keough, retired fire chiefs, described the 18-man response that occurs upon receiving an alarm from BC.

"We hear an alarm and off we go," Keough said.

When an alarm is set off under no circumstance of danger, hundreds of people waste their time. Some of the 18 firefighters that responded to the Ignacio alarm were pulled away from their assigned areas—potentially, they could have been needed in real dangerous situations.

"The worst consequence that could result from such an incident is the loss of a life, because that life is connected to a whole family and community," Keough said, conveying the large impact of a seemingly harmless prank.

Keough said that while traveling at dangerous speeds to reach designated sites, the odds of a police officer or fire fighter getting into an accident are enormously increased; and running down several flights of stairs in a state of shock, students are prone to falling.

"When you do one dumb thing, you cause a lot of problems for a lot of people," Wood said.

Wood said that it appears that students who intentionally trigger alarms or tamper with fire equipment have no malicious motives—they are usually intoxicated and make poor choices.

Keough said that with a prank like this, an element of trust in the BC community is compromised. By making poor decisions, BC students lose the trust of those that want to help them—the Residential Life staff, the police officers, and the firemen—and the respect of their fellow peers.

What appeared to be nothing but a bothersome prank two weeks ago ended up causing over $6,000 in damage and clean-up fees. The contents of a fire extinguisher are caustic and have the capability to destroy electronics, induce asthma attacks, and damage lighting—as it did in Ignacio.

When asked about the consequences a student must suffer if he is deemed the offender, Keough slid a document across the table—"Massachusetts State Law." The offender is subject to one year in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. Arey made it clear that a consequence would be the unerring suspension from the University, but also stressed the loss of respect from peers.

"To see all the socializing, studying, and sleeping impacted by one person displays a general lack of respect for the community," Arey said.

Many students are guilty of taking the university fire procedures and list of prohibited items lightly, but dorms have regulations for a reason.

"One thing that scares universities incredibly is fire," said Paul Chebator, interim dean of student development.

Chebator said that most BC fires are caused by these prohibited items, and while some students may have foam mattress pads in their own homes, when 200 of them are gathered in one building the risk of a fire increases exponentially.

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