Eleven smoke detector violations were reported last month to SIUE police, and these incidents almost all involved students covering their smoke alarms.
Director of University Housing Michael Schultz said the smoke alarms have been updated in the past few years. These newer alarms may be more sensitive overall.
“I don’t have an exact date [as to when alarms were changed], but it was within the last several years. What that tells me is that they’re sensitive,” Schultz said.
According to the police blotter, individuals have been receiving citations for covering their fire alarms, as this is against university policy.
Schultz said there was a fire roughly a decade ago in Cougar Village, which led to the fire department having to pull out six people. Due to this, the university created a no-tolerance policy with covering up alarms.
Schultz said it was found that the smoke alarm was covered in the apartment below them.
“What was found out was that the person below them was cooking and had the smoke alarm covered. Smoke alarms alert you of a fire. So [with it covered], it didn’t alert the people upstairs. They did not have the opportunity to get out, and it happened in the night,” Schultz said. “We got very, very lucky that no one died in that fire.”
Schultz said this life-endangering fire caused housing to enforce stronger policies when it comes to intentionally covering an alarm.
“So, at that point, we took a no-tolerance policy. We shifted a little so, if someone is covering a smoke alarm and they’ve done it on purpose, most likely we’re going to terminate them from housing,” Schultz said.
Consequences don’t end on the university side. There’s also a chance of police issuing city ordinances to the occupants, according to Schultz. These ordinances are around $300 to $500 fees, and then they must go to court.
Schultz said over the years the alarms have switched from being battery-operated to being directly hard-wired into a system, which allows SIUE police to be contacted immediately upon a fire.
Schultz notes that nearly all alarms are activated for valid reasons, such as actual fires or smoke.
“98 percent of the alarms that are happening are all [for] valid reasons. We’ll see more of them at the beginning of fall semester as people learn to cook, and through trial and error, they learn that they can’t boil water and then leave the apartment,” Schultz said. “So, that happens. We understand that. That’s what the alarms are there for, so we don’t have a fire. They’re working in the proper manner.”
Schultz wants all students to know that covering the smoke alarms is a hazard to themselves and everyone around them.
“I strongly urge students to not cover the smoke alarms. Not only are they affecting their lives, but they’re also affecting 31 other lives. I would hate for us to lose a student because someone was careless, or on purpose covered, a smoke alarm,” Schultz said.
Chief of Police Kevin Schmoll said most of the smoke alarms activated in Cougar Village are from showers or cooking.
“A lot of them in Cougar Village are cooking-related or humidity-related, generally from someone taking a hot shower,” Schmoll said.
In a week, SIUE police get around 10 fire alarm calls. The majority are not serious.
“We probably get, in a week’s time, probably 8 to 10 fire alarm calls in Cougar Village. Zero of them are serious,” Schmoll said.
Sophomore Morgan Naramore, of East Peoria, Illinois, has had issues with the smoke alarms this year in Cougar Village, including a time when the smoke alarms went off because of shower steam.
“At the beginning of the year, someone had taken a shower and the steam or something set off the fire alarm. We didn’t think it was our room, but apparently they can find out who’s room [the alarm] is from. They found out it was our room because of the steam,” Naramore said.
Naramore also said that the alarms had gone off randomly before, and doesn’t know why.
“There was one time we were all sleeping, it was like 3 in the morning, and it went off for no reason. They found out it was our room, and we didn’t know if something was wrong or if it was an issue with batteries or something,” Naramore said.