School Fire - 11/3/2004
HS_Detector_(2098-9209) HS_Fire_Bell_Modified Edwards_FB_and_CB_Modified Edwards_Remote_FACP

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This was the second time during my high school days that I was stuck in the building during a fire alarm, as I was supposed to be pulled from the building beforehand due to anxiety issues. However, unlike last time when it turned out to be just a drill, this time it was for a real fire.

It was about 8:30. I had scheduled visits with the school social worker on Wednesdays during first period. I was in the middle of drawing when the fire alarm suddenly went off. The social worker said (jokingly) if this is a drill, someone was going to get in trouble (because we weren't notified). As we were walking down the 100 corridor towards the lobby, my English teacher commented as he was closing the door to his classroom that there was nothing more painful than it (the alarm) ringing in your ear. Personally thought it wasn’t all that loud. Anyway, we walked through the fire doors that led us into the lobby and saw our principal walking down the adjacent 500 wing towards us. He had his head was down and shaking when he told us, “This is not a drill, it's not a drill." Before we exited the school, just a few feet before reaching the door, you could smell smoke (as well has hear the Edwards annunciator doing code-3 for an alarm condition).

So, we were outside on the lawn in the bus circle, in 40 degree weather, it was very windy, and there was no sun. It was COLD! The temps themselves weren't bad; it was the wind that really made it worse. Anyway, the alarm was still going off, and everyone was wondering when we can go back in. We were told by some unknown source that we couldn't until the firemen declared it was safe. However, this didn’t stop one of the middle school office secretaries from going back in and getting the other secretaries coats! After about 5-10 minutes, they finally shut off the alarm, but we stood outside freezing for about another 5 minutes before we were allowed to go back in. When we got the all-clear, 3 teachers and a hall-monitor literally ran for the building as they were so cold, but then again, they were all women.

Many people were relieved that we could go back in because many (roughly 75%) didn’t dress appropriately for the weather. I personally just get dropped of and don’t walk to school. So I decided not to wear a sweatshirt that day, which I regret, but even those who wore sweatshirts were cold. What shocked us all was that the fire department never came. Nonetheless, we were glad to be back in the nice warm building (it should be warm after having a fire break out). The custodians didn’t reset the panels yet, but they were silenced and because of that, none of the fire doors could be held open by the magnetic door holders.

So it was a weird morning, although, the whole thing only lasted about 15-20 minutes. Now, for some notes, or observations to note. For one thing, the Simplex system activated 2-3 seconds before the Edwards system did. The wing where I was (100 wing) joins the new 700 wing which is wired to the Edwards system so I heard both alarms activate clearly. However, I expected this because the Simplex panel is wired as a point on the Edwards panel, and all panels have a small delay before the alarms activate whenever a zone or point goes into alarm. The second thing is the absence of the fire department. Our school has a security system that will automatically call the fire department when the alarm goes off, regardless whether or not the system is armed. We think the school called the security company and advised them not to send anyone as the fire was already out, but the absence of the fire department was never officially explained. I was told at a later date, however, that the fire captain for the department responsible for the area did show up on his own, although it was in an unmarked vehicle. The third thing is that since we didn't have our 10 fire drills we were supposed to have that fall (we only had 7), it was questionable as to whether or not this would count as drill #8, and sure enough, I was told it did..

Now, as for the events leading up to the fire, the school psychologist first noticed a problem was when her office smelled funny (her office is the other side of the wall of the room of dryer is in). She reported that to the janitors. Now, there was a crisis (unrelated) in the nurse’s office, so the school psychologist and the principal were in the nurse’s office. I found out while getting my haircut on Saturday (the hairdresser is the nurses' aid) that the principal got a scare when the alarm went off. Why? Well, when they redid the main office, guidance office, and the nurse’s office in 2004, they installed bell/strobes in the offices. Well, I assume the principal was standing right underneath the alarm when it went off and being as it was a nurse’s office, and odds are it was fairly quiet in there, when the alarm went off it got very loud, and in addition to not knowing about it, he got a scare. That’s when the psychologist came to the conclusion that there really was a fire because she smelled smoke. I also found out that once the psychologist told the custodians what her office smelled like, they went and inspected the drier. It’s believed they found a little smoke and just turned the drier off. However, a little while later when the alarm went off, they went back and looked at it again and this time found flames coming out of the bottom of it. I also found out that it took 2 fire extinguishers to put it out, which the fire captain was not happy about as the general rule is, if you can’t put out the fire with just one extinguisher, get out and leave it for the fire department to deal with. All in all, it was a potentially dangerous situation that could have been a lot worse. I'm just grateful that the alarm went off when it did, and system did its job detecting the smoke automatically (as I was told a smoke detector set the system off). This is just another example of how working systems can save lives, even though the situation was already somewhat in the process of being taken care of when the alarm activated. Nonetheless, the system did its job and it still works.

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