False fire alarms cost St. Thomas money from its tuition-fueled budget, but the overall costs extend far beyond cash.
On-campus residents are familiar with false fire alarms. More often than not, the alarms are caused by burnt food, instead of a real fire. These alarms lead to an evacuation of the residence hall and usually end with the crowd herded back into the building within minutes.
Before spring break, a fire alarm evacuated students from Morrison Hall into Koch Commons March 23. The alarm was a result of burnt food in a community kitchen.
Public Safety Manager Bill Carter said there is a cost when the fire department is called, and it extends beyond fines.
“There is an astronomical cost for these, whether we are charged or not,” Carter said.
When the fire department responds to a fire alarm, the cost of sending paid employees with equipment is more than $250. When a St. Thomas alarm sounds, it triggers a call to local fire department, sending 12 firefighters and three trucks to the scene. Carter said each truck is crucial in the event there is a serious fire.
The fire department defines a fire as anything that produces smoke or fire, or anything burnt in a container not designed for burning. When an alarm is not the result of a fire, it is deemed by the fire department as a false alarm.
The university is allotted two false fire alarms per year for each building. For any alarm after two, the university is charged $250, plus an additional $50 for each alarm. Any false alarm after six costs $500.
The cost is paid for out of the university’s budget. Carter said the fines come indirectly from the students’ pockets.
“Our budget is driven by tuition,” Carter said. “The money comes from the checking account and that is what is in it.”
Students also feel the costs of false alarms, other than in monetary ways. Senior Chris Falk said he lost time during a recent alarm in Morrison Residence Hall. Falk said he is bothered by the frequency the alarms go off and believes people should be held accountable.
“If it were possible to trace who did it, they should have to pay for it,” he said.
Carter said there is a simple way to prevent how often alarms go off.
“Pay attention to what you’re cooking,” he said
Gina Dolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.