Smoke generator, prank set off string of fire alarms

Smoke generator, prank set off string of fire alarms

Emily Franke

The testing of a smoke generator in the Performing Arts Center triggered RBHS’s fire alarms around 3 p.m. yesterday, resulting in a non-drill evacuation of the school. Following the evacuation, as students and faculty reentered the building, a student pulled a fire alarm in the west part of the building, principal Dr. Jennifer Rukstad said.
An intercom message instructed students and faculty to disregard subsequent alarms and remain in the building.
“Right after the evacuation someone pulled an alarm on the west side of the building,” Rukstad said. “We’re pretty sure the repeats were partly smoke, partly the pull but we didn’t want students to continue to stay outside when we knew that there was no fire. [We knew there was no fire] almost immediately but we still had to evacuate because we still had to verify that information [that] it might be a smoke machine.”
During the evacuation, Rukstad was in the front commons and said everybody remained calm and did their jobs. As people reentered the school, assistant principals and officer Keisha Edwards investigated the source of the pulled alarm using the fire alarm’s computer system and the security cameras.
“When the fire alarm goes off, this cabinet will tell us what alarm is going off. You’ll have some lights that come on and it said like auditorium balcony,” assistant principal Brian Gaub said. “At about the same time, Mr. Justin Cole, who works in the theater tech, was using a smoke generator, so we would silence that [alarm] and then it took a couple times because you still have the little bit of smoke that was resetting it.”
After resetting the alarm a couple times, Gaub said the alarm switched locations to the west breezeway pull station. By closing the mechanism at the door and using the camera system, Gaub said they were able to see a student had pulled the alarm.
“The system, which is extremely sensitive, let’s us know which alarm in the building has been pulled so we can very easily take a look at the video cameras, which are wonderful and new and all in color, and we can zoom and do a whole lot really neat things, and we were able to identify who the student was,” assistant principal Deborah Greene said. “We were able to just zoom right in on that camera we knew what time span to take a look at so it was pretty fast it probably didn’t take over six or seven minutes.”
After the administration identified the student, Greene said they pulled the student from class to receive disciplinary action. The most recent false alarm pull Greene remembers was last year in the spring. Students were at school after hours, not for an activity, and one student pulled the alarm. Using the computer system, the student was identified and reprimanded.
“When we do a drill, we call [our total alarm system] and we turn off all security stuff. We call and say ‘Hey we’re doing a drill,’ and so everything is shut down, and that’s how we’re able to run drills,” Greene said. “Because … it went off automatically because of the smoke machine, there isn’t a way for us to go, ‘Hey don’t come,’ so [the fire department] did arrive and officer Edwards spoke with them and they did want to kind of check out the vicinity and all just for safety reasons.”
Falsely pulling a fire alarm falls under discipline for false alarms, Greene said, and consequences could include out of school suspension. Each time an alarm is pulled, it sends a signal to the fire department, she said, and certain alarms cost the district money. A false alarm can also cause moments of uncertainty and panic.
By Emily Franke
A view of the inside of the fire alarm system box. Photo by Emily Franke.