This year, approximately 133 fire alarms in PCV were proven to be false or labeled as human error — 65 in January and 68 in February. An additional 10 false alarms were reported as mechanical errors.
The fire alarms are set off for a variety of reasons, including bacon smoke, shower steam and occasionally real fires.
UPD chief Bill Watton said there should be some way to prevent the number of false alarms the department must respond to.
“If you compare what we have versus say a hotel, rarely have you ever been required to leave your hotel room because a smoke alarm went off someplace,” Watton said.
Although he said the number of false alarms is high, he doesn’t consider answering the false alarms to be a waste of time or money.
“It’s not necessarily wasted, because (the fire alarms) are so sensitive that it senses a very small amount of smoke, something that you or I wouldn’t see or smell, but it would sense it and set it off,” Watton said. “So the alarm itself is actually doing its job in getting resources there.”
UPD responds to two or three alarms a day, Watton said.
“We don’t see many fires, so while it is somewhat of a nuisance, it’s also important to go check every one of those because we have had fires,” he said.
To prevent fires, all new Cal Poly buildings, starting with PCV, use NOTIFIER, a fire alarm brand which cost the school more than $ 1.7 million, Facilities Planning and Capital Projects director Joel Neel said. Having every building use the same alarm system is a convenience for the university, he said.
“With only one system, our alarm folks can easily diagnose a problem and repair it with parts we already have on campus,” Neel said. “If we were to have many different systems, it would be more difficult (to) diagnose potential problems, get parts and fix them in a timely manner.”
Because all buildings use the same smoke alarm system, the problem isn’t with the brand, it’s with the way PCV is set up, UPD officer Paul Davis said.
“All the rooms in Poly Canyon are set up the same,” he said. “The way the room is set up, there is no outside ventilation near the cooking area, it ventilates through a filter. With items that create smoke such as hamburger meat, sausage or bacon it becomes a problem for setting off the fire alarms.”
Although no other problems have been reported with campus fire alarms, the NOTIFIER brand does recognize possible “nuisance alarms.”
According to NOTIFIER’s website, “a nuisance alarm occurs when a smoke sensor reacts to stimuli that are under most circumstances, allowed in the environment and do not represent a hostile fire.”
Examples of stimuli include burning toast, tobacco smoke and the release of aerosols such as air fresheners, hair spray or insecticides, according to the website.
Fire alarms are not the only signals on campus which falsely alert UPD. There are more than 100 Blue Light System poles around campus — pushing the button on a pole is equivalent to calling 911. Although most students said they like the blue poles for safety reasons, almost every 911 call from a blue pole is false, according to Watton.
“Almost exclusively what we get on the blue phones are somebody playing with it,” Watton said. “They’ll push the button and run off because they’re drunk or they’ve been drinking. They think it’s just funny to push the button and run off.”
Biochemistry sophomore Michael Wallum said he had first-hand experience with this.
While he was walking home from a party one night, his friend vandalized a Blue Light System pole with an axe he found earlier.
“(He) axed one and tried to chop it,” Wallum said. “He may have been inebriated … and decided to go to town on it.”
Because of this incident, Wallum said he doesn’t think the Blue Light System is effective.
“I have honestly heard people vandalize it instead of (it) giving a sense of comfort,” he said. “ Blue lights are so easy to push the button and run away.”
Although almost all calls on the Blue Light System are false, Davis said they are still important to have on campus.
“The blue lights are a great necessity on campus if the students are educated on how to utilize them and encourage that they are here for greater safety,” Davis said. “Then and there in itself makes it worthwhile.”
Every alarm, false or not, and including fire alarms and Blue Light System, will be answered by UPD, Davis said.
Ebony Chetto, Amber Diller, Andrea Kang, Kaytlyn Leslie and Samantha Sullivan contributed to this article.