Alarums and Excursions: What’s Up With the Fire Alarm?
story | Joshua Wong, Contributing Reporter
photo | Yang Xuerui
In the early hours of Monday 3 October, Saga and Elm colleges experienced a fire alarm caused by a faulty alarm device on the 22nd floor of Saga Tower A.
Fire alarms are a regular occurrence on the Yale-NUS College campus, but their frequency has irritated students. Since the campus’ inauguration in May 2015, 32 alarms have been activated (excluding two scheduled fire drills per semester), with seven alarms occurring this semester alone.
Many students voiced their frustration over the repeated incidences of false alarms. Vasudha Kataruka ’19 expressed her annoyance at waking up to yet another alarm, and felt that the repeated, groundless evacuations were a “waste [of] time”.
A common worry was that false alarms will lead to complacency in an actual emergency. Jonas Yun ’18 feared that the College’s notorious fire alarm record will mean “students will not respond with [a] sense of urgency” should there be a real fire. Kevin Low ’17 echoed this sentiment, raising the concern that multiple false alarms have led to a “‘boy who cried wolf’ kind of mentality” among the student body.
Multiple things can trigger the alarm: faulty alarm hardware, dust particles and insect repellent setting off smoke detectors, and individuals manually activating alarm call points (which has occurred twice this year). As maintenance work on our new campus—and thus the quantity of dust particles in the air—decreases over time, so should the number of false alarms.Ms. Radha Pebbisetty, Senior Safety and Health Manager, urged students not to use “fume-generating devices” in their suite to avoid triggering the alarm.
Mr. Ng Chin Fei, Senior Project Manager of the Design and Construction office, noted that there are far fewer smoke detectors in public buildings and HDBs than in Yale-NUS, where they are present in every suite. This in part explains the high incidence of alarms on campus as compared to elsewhere.
All alarms triggered will alert the island-wide decentralized alarm monitoring (DECAM) provider, who will in turn notify the fire department. A member of the College’s 24-hour security team will investigate the alarm to determine if it is real. If not, they will notify DECAM so that a fire engine is not activated. The Singapore Civil Defence Force reserves the right to penalize the College if fire engines are dispatched for a false alarm too many times.
The closest fire station is located in Clementi. According to Ms. Pebbisetty, a fire engine can be here in “single-digit minutes” should there be a real emergency.
Nevertheless, continued vigilance remains important. Ms. Pebbisetty urged students to “honor the announcement” and follow all instructions given during a fire alarm. “It is better to be safe than sorry,” added Mr. Ng.