Nine of the 15 manual fire alarm pulls in UT buildings since September 2013 were “malicious pulls” unrelated to reporting a fire, according to data from Fire Prevention Services. Out of the six remaining pulls, only four reported actual fires and two were unintentional bumped pulls. University Fire Marshal James Johnson said FPS has previously suspected students and members of the transient community around the University of inappropriately activating the alarm system.
Passed in 2013, Texas House Bill 1284 made it a felony to falsely pull a fire alarm in an institution for higher education. Johnson said the university has yet to charge someone for a violation under this law.
Robert Lee Moore Hall experienced a series of three malicious fire alarm pulls in September and October 2013 during similar times of the day and similar days of the week. Johnson said FPS suspected a student pulled the fire alarm to get out of a class or exam as the time period corresponded with heightened testing periods. Although the perpetrator was never caught, Johnson said the department employed stoppers after the incidents to end the false fire alarms.
“Most pull stations are exposed, so there is a red box with a white handle and you walk up and you pull it,” Johnson said. “But there is a system called a stopper, which is a plastic cover that goes on top of the pull station so when you pull off the stopper it sets off a localized alarm before you pull the other alarm. It’s a way to draw attention to someone pulling an alarm and once we installed stoppers, the pulls in that building ceased.”
Even though stoppers effectively discourage false fire alarm pulls, Johnson said most pulling stations on campus do not have stoppers on them because it is not part of the standard fire code.
Computer science senior Nicholas Sundin said he thinks falsely pulling a fire alarm could be an easier way to get out of class than faking an illness.
“You don’t need a doctor’s note to pull an alarm, just a hand and a lack of decency,” Sundin said.
The process of evacuating a building for a false alarm prevents students from taking fire alarms seriously, said Alexandra Keimig, human development and family
“I’ve noticed people tend to get complacent when alarms go off frequently, but there is no actual fire,” Keimig said. “People get tired of evacuating for a fake fire, which breeds bad habits for a time when there may actually be a fire requiring evacuation of the building.”
Even though manual pull stations are rarely used to report fires, Johnson said the stations remain an integral part of the University’s fire safety program.
“If I’m walking down this hallway and the smoke detector is mid-hallway and the fire is at the other end of the hall and I see the fire but the smoke hasn’t gotten to the detector, its not gonna set it off,” Johnson said. “Early activation of fire activation systems and fire suppression systems keep the fire in check and allow for safe evacuation of a building.”