Andover Fire Department Responds To Frequent False Alarms on Campus

A student fired off aerosal spray at a bothersome insect last Thursday, accidentally setting off Paul Revere Hall’s fire alarm and sending dozens of upperclassmen girls in pajamas to their meeting place at the flagpole outside Commons. The girls then moved to the Ryley Room and waited for members of the Andover Fire Department to arrive and give permission for them to return to their dorm rooms. False alarms like this one are not uncommon on campus, and the Andover Fire Department drives up the hill to Phillips Academy for each alarm – a total of 19 false activations so far this year, according to Tom Conlon, Manager of the Phillips Academy Public Safety Department. There were a total of 78 recorded fire alarm activations during the 2006-2007 school year, he said. Despite the numerous visits that the Andover Fire Department must make to Phillips Academy every term, its services do not cost the school anything, even for unplanned alarm activations. The Fire Department will, however, begin to charge $400-600 for each visit if at least three “annoyance” alarms go off within short successions of each other. So far, the Department has not had to charge these fees. According to the Public Safety Department’s records, the reasons for fire alarm activations on campus fall under nine categories. Smoke from cooking, dust or dirt, and shower steam are three main causes for the activations. Insects, smoke from popcorn, water, aerosol spray, or steam from hair dryers or curling irons also set off fire alarms frequently. The Public Safety Department requires that each dorm and academic building carry out one fire drill per term. In the fall, each dorm must perform two fire drills: one practice drill, which is to occur after the first dorm meeting explaining the fire drill procedure, and one unannounced drill that usually takes place early morning or late at night a few days after the first drill. When the alarm sounds, students in the building must evacuate immediately. According to Conlon, the average building on campus can be evacuated in approximately two minutes. After evacuating, students gather at the previously designated meeting place for a particular building so that the faculty members in charge can make sure that everyone is accounted for. When an alarm goes off unplanned, the Andover Fire Department arrives promptly to check the situation and the system, if necessary. In addition to the attending the required fire drills every term, Andover Fire Department’s Fire Prevention Office, with Phillips Academy Public Safety Department, conducts annual fire safety inspections on all academic buildings and dorms.