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The Blue & Gray Press | August 20, 2019

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Changes Made to Detector System Leads to Fewer False Alarms

Changes Made to Detector System Leads to Fewer False Alarms


During September and October of last year, Eagle Landing residents were forced to evacuate the building 18 times due to the highly sensitive smoke detector system. Since then the system has been adjusted, much to the relief of those involved in the evacuations.

Although Eagle Landing residents have yet to make it through October, the evacuation trend this year has been much more manageable.

According to Director of Residence Life Christine Porter, Eagle Landing residents have only experienced one fire drill thus far, which was a premeditated evacuation.

Porter said that last year the University worked with Eagle Landing’s developers and the Fredericksburg Fire Department, among others, in order to find a solution to the redundant evacuations.

“We did not decrease the sensitivity of the smoke detector system, we changed it from a one-detector activation to a two-detector activation,” Porter explained.

Director of Environmental Health and Safety Ruth Lovelace confirmed that the alarms were reprogrammed in order to decrease the number of unnecessary fire drills.

Last year, activating one smoke detector forced the entire building to evacuate. Now, the entire building must evacuate only if the smoke reaches two detectors.

Sophomores Abby Mulugeta and RaeAna Eiley experienced the new system firsthand.

While cooking quesadillas shortly after settling in, some of the oil burned and began to smoke. They opened the windows and fanned the smoke out, but one of the smoke detectors had already been activated.

Had this happened last year, all students in Eagle Landing would have been forced to evacuate.

According to Mulugeta and Eiley, three security guards knocked on their door a few minutes after the alarm activation.

The guards took the names of everyone in the room and checked to make sure the situation was under control, Mulugeta explained.

Mulugeta and Eiley agree that the current smoke detector system is acceptable, but are not entirely happy with the alarms’ sensitivity.

“It’s annoying, but I guess it’s better safe than sorry,” Eiley responded when asked about the procedure.

In a previous interview, Lovelace stated that the university and design engineers were reviewing the Fire Code in order to see if the fire alarms’ design could be changed.

“UMW met over the summer with a group of consultants that are still reviewing the designs and code requirements,” Lovelace responded when asked about the current condition of the alarms.

However, Lovelace said that they have yet to reach a decision.

Although Porter has not received any complaints this year about the smoke detector system, she acknowledges that it is not perfect.

“We are still examining ways that we can make the system a little more reasonable,” Porter stated.

Senior Miña Recta has lived in Eagle Landing the past two years, and she agrees that the current smoke detector system is an improvement over last year’s.

According to Recta, an incident occurred last year during which residents evacuated the building because steam from someone’s shower activated the alarm.

“I still think more can be done to reduce the number of times the fire department is called to our building,” Recta said.

She suggests using less sensitive smoke detectors or a more effective ventilation system in the kitchens.

Although Eagle Landing residents have not experienced any unplanned evacuations this year, Recta has not forgotten their tediousness.

“I make sure to bring some reading or a blanket while I’m waiting outside,” she said, since the building inspection can take over an hour to complete.

Photo by Anne Elder


  1. Matt M

    The one thing I don’t see mentioned in the article — decreasing the number of false-activations actually INCREASES safety. How? It’s like the story of the man who cried wolf. If everyone keeps having to evacuate for every little kitchen mishap, they’ll start ignoring the fire alarms assuming it’s another false alarm. Then if something really happened, it would be putting people in danger when they assume it’s just another false alarm.

    I’m sure someone will comment saying “gee they have to get out regardless” but think about it — we’ve already desensitized ourselves to things like car alarms so it’s a small step to ignoring fire alarms.

  2. Anonymous

    If only this article actually got the information correctly, and the reporter who wrote it actually knew how many times the Fredericksburg Fire Department actually showed up. It’s a daily occurrence; sometimes 2-4 responses DAILY. While the entire building may not have to evacuate any more, the City is still required to put out a response, per the UMW Public Safety policies. The City’s Engine 1 and Battalion 1 are required to respond, whether the alarm is known to be false or not, and can be seen at the building multiple times daily because (a) college kids can’t cook and (b) because the University obviously likes to waste the City’s precious resources. The only change since last year is the fact that it takes 2 fire alarms to go off to require an evacuation. What the article DOESN’T state, is that even if 1 alarm is to be activated, the Fire Department still has to respond. This article needs to focus less on the fact that an alarm may wake a few kids up in the middle of the night, and more on the fact that the alarm wastes the City’s fire resources, many times on nights when the City is extraordinarily busy, where mutual aide fire and rescue need to respond in.