Safety in old buildings under review following fire alarm system failure

A failure in the fire alarm systems in Blake Hall has brought attention to the overall status of fire alarm systems in many of the older buildings on campus. On Jan. 29, an email was sent out to all students regarding broken fire alarms in the Blake building. The email read, “No fire alarms, sound devices or strobes are currently operating. If a fire does occur, the sprinkler system will work, but there will be no warning.”

While there is reassurance that the University Police will monitor the building around the clock, the problem creates concern for campus safety, especially in older facilities. Although another email was sent out the same afternoon as the first, there were no more updates following the second email.

The second email read, “Custodial will conduct the fire watch in Blake buildings throughout the evening into tomorrow morning. At that time we will give you more information as to the scheduling of the repair and the approximate time frame.” Students were never sent another email, however.

According to Associate Director of Facilities Services Kirk Spangler, an email was not sent out because he did not hear word about the situation until Wednesday Feb. 5.

“It is expected that the unit fire control panel may be ready in time for this coming weekend,” Spangler said.

There will be another campus-wide email sent out once this estimation is confirmed.

“The problem was likely caused by the age of the fire alarm panel,” Campus Environmental Health and Safety Director Chuck Reyes said.

This brings up the question of whether there is a risk for a similar situation to occur in older buildings like Blake. Reyes ensured that “usually, we try to replace or upgrade the fire alarm panels before they fail.” He said it is very rare for the fire alarm control panel to fail; it is a more likely problem to come across faulty smoke detector trouble alarms, which is normally just a result of a detector that needs to be cleaned.

Reyes noted that, despite the faulty alarms, the campus is extremely safe. Currently, Blake is being monitored at all times, and a fire watch team patrols the building every 20 minutes to looks for signs of fire. If something is spotted, the fire watch will notify the Geneseo Fire Department, alert all occupants in the building and use a bullhorn to make evacuation as smooth and quick as possible.

Reyes added, “It is important to note that even though we have some aging systems, the campus is in full compliance with the fire code of New York State.” Thus, students and faculty need not be worried about their safety on campus concerning fire-related incidents.

“All fire alarms are monitored 24/7 by University Police. If a trouble alarm is detected, it is checked out by facilities,” Spangler said. “All fire alarm systems are checked every six months by an outside vendor, as required by law.”