This article first appeared on DUSA Media.
For halls residents, fire alarms are a near daily occurrence. But when firefighters show up, they rarely find a fire.
A group of people, some of them still in their PJs, standing outside in the rain, while a beeping sound cuts through the silence… If you’ve ever lived in one of Dundee University’s residences, you know what that means: A fire alarm went off somewhere in the building. It has become something of an initiation ritual for students living in halls, and talking about it is a sure-fire way to start a conversation that everyone on campus can join.
According to numbers obtained from Tayside Fire and Rescue through a Freedom of Information request, fire alarms in student accommodation in Dundee went off 546 times between 1 April 2011 and 5 February 2013.
Take a guess: How often did firefighters have to deal with, you know, actual fires?
If you came up with an estimate in the double digits or more, you’re way off. The fire brigade extinguished flames exactly nine times in almost two years. Apparently, kitchens are a particularly dangerous place. Three “pots of meat”, a frying pan on a hob, two towels and two paper bins caused fires. There also was an unspecified incident in a kitchen.
More than 98 percent of fire alarms that went off in student accommodation did so for other reasons. The main causes, a spokeswoman for Tayside Fire and Rescue dryly notes, included “cooking, deodorant spray, straighteners, candles, showers, etc.” A West Park resident tells a story that will be familiar to many: “Following a night that involved drinking out of a shoe, several air-soft gun rampages and much profuse vomiting, some pillock decided it would be a good idea to set off our fire extinguisher. Aside from suffocating the entire population of our hallway, it rather ironically also set off the fire alarm.”
Residents in Dundee University’s halls are particularly likely to set off fire alarms for no (fire-related) reason. The highest number of alarms – 119 – came from Heathfield. The leader in actual fires, however, is Seabraes: Out of 76 alarms, three incidents there required firefighters.
It probably will not surprise you that anecdotal evidence suggests alcohol often plays a role in fire alarms, like in this story told by a former Belmont resident: “When we came back from Skint, my flatmate tried to make chips. A huge gust of smoke came out when she opened the oven, and the fire alarm went off. The fire brigade discovered that someone had tried to cook a shoe in our oven. Our entire flat was deemed toxic because of the fumes from the plastic.” (The incident took place in 2010 and isn’t included in the figures above.)
How do other student residences in the city stack up? Well, it isn’t even close. Over 22 months, fire alarms went off in The Hub just four times, and not once in The Opal, according to Tayside Fire and Rescue.
Asked whether students are too careless when it comes to setting off fire alarms, Tayside Fire and Rescue preferred to “not give an opinion.”
In all fairness, the numbers probably speak for themselves.