Fire Alarm Malfunctions Reveal Humidity Issue in Elson Art Center

Students awaiting the start of the ThinkFast competition in Kemper Auditorium were jolted out of their seats by the piercing blast of a fire alarm this past Saturday.

The faulty alarm was one of two that went off this week, alerting school officials to a humidity issue in the Elson Art Center’s ductworks.

After the false alarm on Saturday, the same fire alarm located in the ductwork of the Elson Art Center was triggered this Tuesday evening around 5:00 p.m.

“We were surprised to hear that the same exact detector alarmed for a second time on Tuesday, especially because we thought that the problem had been taken care of on Saturday,” said Thomas Conlon, Director of Phillips Academy Public Safety (PAPS).

In response to this second alarm, the Fire Department was again called to inspect the facility along with a team of electrical experts from Phillips Academy’s Office of Physical Plant.

“When the electricians inspected the smoke detector for a second time on Tuesday afternoon, they found that it was in the exact same condition as it had been on Saturday: covered with moisture,” said Conlon.

The electrical team discovered that, due to a previous setting in the Elson Art Center’s ductwork, a high percentage of humidity from the outside air was diffusing into the heating and cooling networks. This created an accumulation of moisture in the ductwork and caused the smoke detector periodically malfunction.

“The electricians were able to program the ductwork system so that this accumulation of moisture is now filtered out of the building,” said Conlon.

Firefighters called to the scene on Saturday had encountered a similar situation.

James Dolan, Deputy Chief of the Andover Fire Department, said “When we finally located the source of the alarm, the detector seemed to be covered with moisture. This was probably what actually caused the detector to activate the alarm.”

Initially fire officials thought the smoke detector was falsely triggered by a foreign substance in the air, according to Dolan.

“[A fire alarm] could be caused by dust or even a spider crawling into one of the detectors. However, it could also be caused by an overheated motor, which is why [the fire department] has to find out what exactly is causing the alarm,” said Dolan.

Dolan added that because the malfunctioning detector was located in was located inside the building’s heating and cooling ductwork, it took the Fire Department longer to locate, inspect and reset the detector.

Once the alarm was cleaned, reset and placed back into the ductwork, the ThinkFast competition began in the auditorium as planned.

“We were just sitting down in Kemper waiting for the game to start up when the alarm started going off. We all had to wait out in the cold for almost forty five minutes while the fire department figured out what was wrong,” Susanna Rademacher ’13 said.

Frank Tipton, Dean of West Quad North and the dean on duty at the competition, said that though the alarm didn’t affect the ThinkFast program itself, it seemed like the auditorium was less full once students were allowed back into the building.

Neither Andover Fire Department nor PAPS expect any further complications with the fire alarm detector.

“While it is a pain to deal with problems like this, things like this always come up, and we just have to deal with each situation in the best way that we can,” said Dolan.