Fire Alarms Irk South Campus
By Jesse Baer
Two minutes before 4 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 16, a hellish cacophony
of fire alarms drove dozens of Dascomb residents out of their beds,
onto the cold, wet pavement outside. Within the next 10 minutes,
fire alarms were blaring in Talcott, South and Price. At 5:03 a.m.,
a fifth alarm sounded in Asia House.
“By that happening, [Security] figured it had to be someone
pulling them,” Director of Residential Life for South Campus
Kevin Williams said. “They started asking around.”
Within three hours, they had found a suspect, by searching through
the records of ID card swipers in the affected buildings.
“One particular individual was found to have been in all the
buildings during the time of the fire alarm,” Director of
Safety and Security Robert Jones said.
That student confessed to pulling all of the alarms, except for
the one in Dascomb. According to Williams, the student claimed to
have been motivated by boredom. A second student was found to have
pulled the alarm in Dascomb.
Jones could not recall any similar events. “Nothing as in-depth
as four or five [dorms] at the same time,” he said.
“A large number of students were put into a panic,”
Williams said, estimating that over 400 students were directly affected.
Student reactions ranged from apathy to vivid revenge fantasies.
“It’s such a cheap trick that doesn’t require
an ounce of brain power,” said junior Tom Hoberg, a Dascomb
“It was annoying that I had to go out at that hour, but fire
alarms happen,” said first-year Megan Highfill, a resident
of Harvey House, which was also evacuated as a result of the alarm
“We take the pulling of fire alarms very seriously, because
it places students potentially in enormous jeopardy,” said
Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith. “The fire trucks could be
in one place when the real fire is somewhere else.”
“Oberlin has a volunteer fire department, and not a huge [firefighting]
staff,” Williams said. He noted that all of the city’s
fire trucks were in front of Dascomb when the second alarm went
off in Talcott.
The alarm-pullers will likely face serious consequences for their
actions. According to Oberlin’s Rules and Regulations, the
penalty for pulling a false alarm in one dorm is a $300 fine, plus
probation. Because one of the students pulled alarms in four dorms,
he could face a combined fine of $1,200.
Although this student committed a felony, the City of Oberlin has
decided not to press criminal charges. “This person could
have been charged criminally, but I think the fire chief decided
he would let the College handle it through our process,” Jones
That fate will be decided at a hearing before a College “community
board,” composed of faculty and students. Williams expects
the hearing to occur sooner rather than later, because “it’s
a life-safety issue.”
Jones and Williams both felt that their respective departments —
ResLife for Williams, and Safety and Security for Jones —
had handled the situation well.
However, Williams feels that there are ways that the College could
be better prepared for similar situations in the future.
For example, he said that there should be someone to address the
assembled masses of students before they return to their rooms,
explaining what caused the alarms to go off.
He also feels that the alarms in some locations need to be louder.
Some students interviewed for this article reported that they could
barely hear the alarms.
According to Jones and Williams, a substantial number of students
never left their buildings, which could have had tragic repercussions
in the case of an actual fire.
“Our concern is that people evacuate the building,”
he said. “Students don’t take fire alarms seriously.”
“When something like that continues, it causes people to disregard
the alarms, and you’ll come to a situation when there’s
a fire and no one evacuates the building,” Jones said.