News

Spontaneous smoke dectors sound-off in residence halls

It’s 7 a.m. Saturday and Castleton College students are sleeping peacefully in their residence halls, recovering from the previous night’s activities and relishing in the relaxation of the weekend. No alarms are set, no plans are made until the evening and rest is the only thing on the agenda for the day – until a piercing scream shatters the silence.
“Fire! Fire!” said the mechanical voice of the alarm on the wall, destroying the morning calm.
There is no emergency however, just a smoke detector spontaneously sounding off.
Students all over campus have been experiencing smoke detectors in their rooms erroneously going off.
Jadie Dow, a sophomore dealt with this problem first-hand last year.
“It wasn’t just one instance. It was going off and then would stop,” Dow said. “I decided to unplug it because it wouldn’t stop going off.”
Keith Molinari, director of Public Safety, said there’s a reason for the large number of malfunctions.
“They carry a five-year shelf life,” Molinari of the batteries in the detectors. “Over five years, it is going to become increasingly more sensitive to emissions in the room. It could just be dust particles when they are that sensitive.”
To remedy the problem, the detectors are often taken from the room and the batteries, or the detector itself, is replaced. But students are taking issue with the long turnaround time to get the detector back.
“He didn’t come back with a new one for a month,” Dow said when her smoke detector was taken.
Mike Robilotto, director of Resident Life, explains that the replacement procedure is what makes the replacement time long.
“We call Public Safety to replace the battery. If there are not batteries available, what they do is pull it off and then do a work order to have it replaced,” said Robilotto. “But that was last year’s system. Now we have a new director of Public Safety who’s working with Facilities to make it a much smoother process.”
Some students say the system may still be flawed though.
“At my other school, they came in and tested the alarms” said Catherine Wielgasz, a junior and Audet House resident. “They should run a test before school starts and during breaks.”
Wielgasz said three smoke detectors in her suite simultaneously went off two weeks ago.
And although some students worry about their safety when the detectors are taken for repair, Molinari said they shouldn’t. The detectors that Public Safety removes for replacement are secondary systems, Molinari said.  
“If your alarm goes off and we come and take your alarm, don’t panic and think that you don’t have a fire alarm or smoke head in your room because you actually do. We’re still hard wired.”