Curtis, So Hot Right Now? Mock Fire Drill Gets Cold Reception



Jeff Tufts

At 7 p.m. on Wednesday, November 10, Curtis hall was virtually empty.The reason for the mass exodus was a mock fire drill that was advertised as happening sometime between 7 and 7:15. Rather than face 45 minutes to an hour standing idly in the cold outside Curtis, most students decide to relocate to the dining halls, library, O’Connor Campus Center (Coop), or other residence halls.At 7:10, the all-too-familiar sound of fire alarms blared through the halls, but instead of a bunch of groggy eyed, angry students fleeing the building arguing over who had burnt the popcorn this time, only five or six students were around to exit through the front doors.The fire drill was planned as an opportunity for Campus Safety and the Hamilton Fire Department to practice how they would respond in the event of a real fire in one of the residence halls. State fire officials also attended the mock fire trial.”We thought it would be a good training idea for the fire department, and also good for students to see what would happen if there really was a fire,” said Assistant Director of Residential Education LouAnn Matthews. The drill, which featured actual smoke from a smoke machine placed on the second floor, as well as a dummy representing a victim trapped in a room, would probably have been more effective if students had not been notified in advance and had been around to witness what occurred.However, administrators were reluctant to inconvenience students. “We wanted to make sure we were meeting everyone’s needs,” said Matthews. They didn’t want to trouble students by interfering with schoolwork or by making them stand outside for the fifty minutes the drill took.”[The drill] went the way we were hoping,” Matthews said. The smoke machine worked as expected and the firemen were given a valuable training opportunity.”This was apparent to anyone observing the drill. At 7:20, ten minutes after the fire alarm was set off, the fire trucks arrived and the firefighters prepared to enter the building. At 7:31 the “victim” was safely removed from the building, and about ten minutes later the firefighters took care of the “fire” as well. A little before 8:00 p.m. students were allowed to re-enter the building.Inside there was plenty of hot pizza, wings and soda provided at what wound up being a poorly attended question and answer section, which didn’t actually happen due to the poor attendance. The few students who had remained through the fire drill or who managed to come back at a fortuitous time took advantage of the free food and disappeared into their rooms.The question and answer session did not occur and the state fire officials who observed the drill declined to comment.Student reactions were mixed. Upon returning to their rooms, some students on the second floor, where the smoke machine and “victim” had been placed complained that pillows from their rooms had been left in the hallway. Residential Education Coordinator Tyrone Russell explained that this was because the firefighters needed a way to mark the rooms that had been searched. Normally chalk would be used for this purpose, but because it was only a drill it was preferable to use pillows to signify that a room was clear.Other students that returned to the hall in the midst of the fire drill and were forced to wait outside complained vocally.On the whole, students seemed frustrated with the inconvenience the fire drill created. “I was not a fan. I was trying to study and I wasn’t able to finish my paper,” sophomore Brett Merkel said.With any luck the firefighters will not have to put into practice the skills developed during the drill, but in the event they do, residents of Curtis Hall will probably consider the inconvenience of the drill a small price to pay for the peace of mind afforded by a prepared firefighting force.