Smoke Alarm

Despite the large number of fire alarms that occur regularly in Cougar Village, Director of University Housing Mallory Sidarous said the sensitivity of the smoke detectors is at the current standard for building code.

SIUE police responded to 41 fire alarms in October alone, according to the police blotter.

The cause of the incidents setting off the smoke detectors ranged from cooking to steam from showers. One incident occurred after a vaping pen set off the alarm, according to SIUE PD police records. The police also reported that hair dryers, hair straighteners and steam from a shower have all set off the alarms in the last month. 

Craig Holan, director of Facilities Management, said it is most commonly smoke from cooking, and while steam from a shower has set it off before, it is not a typical trigger. 

“Cooking I think is probably the larger reason. I don’t think that [steam] is as common because the alarms are not really right [near the bathrooms],” Holan said.

Mallory Sidarous, the director of University Housing said the most common reason the detectors go off is that particles in the air trigger the sensors in the alarms. She said that it is fairly common for the alarms to be triggered by aerosol sprays. Smoke detectors work by reacting to particles in the air either through light detection in the chamber or an electric current that reacts to ions in the air that come from smoke, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Particles can make the detectors go off. While cooking can be one of those things, any type of aerosol particles in the air can trigger that alarm. Often, it’s not necessarily somebody’s blow dryer, their straightener, but often, it’s more the aerosol or the prep to your hair that’s in the air, that can indicate something that’s not supposed to be there to the detector,” Sidarous said.

Sidarous said that the sensitivity of the smoke detectors is at the current standard for building code.

Kendra Mackey, a junior English major from Columbia, Missouri, lives in the 500 block of Cougar Village. Several weeks ago, she set off the smoke alarm while blow-drying her hair in her bedroom. According to Mackey, she always dries her hair next to her window to blow the air away from the detector and doesn’t use any product in her hair. She said she didn’t even realize at the time that she was the person to set it off. She assumed it was one of her neighbors as the alarm had gone off earlier in the month by someone who lives below her. Mackey said after the incident where she set off the alarm, she pushed a mini desk fan to help prevent any hot air from reaching the fire alarm in her room. 

“[The alarms are] super inconvenient. You’re minding your own business and then you hear the alarms go off, then everybody has to leave and you’re like, ‘What is it now?’” Mackey said. 

Sidarous said her main advice is to avoid spraying aerosols near the fire alarms. 

 Holan said Cougar Village has updated its smoke detectors in the past few years, and that they are in good condition. 

“I will say that housing has done a good job with their alarm systems. They’ve upgraded the alarms in Cougar Village and they’re in good working order,” Holan said. 

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