April 21, 2019

North Hall residents raise concerns about fire safety system

North Hall does not have a connected system of fire alarms. Residents have to sound an air horn if they sense a fire.

Residents of North Hall relayed safety concerns after three terms in Webster’s newest housing option.  Specifically, North Hall has no fire alarm pull stations or interconnected smoke detectors.

Junior Colleen Jordan wanted a safe living environment when she applied for housing.  She and other residents of North Hall said they do not feel safe with the building’s current state.

Even though each room has a smoke detector, North Hall does not have a system to interconnect each alarm.  If a student started a fire in the room next to Jordan’s, her smoke detector will not go off until her room begins filling with smoke.  

Each floor on North Hall has an air horn in case of fires.

“If there was really was a fire, that might be too late,” Jordan said.

The Webster Groves Code of Ordinances says dwellings with multiple fire alarms must be interconnected in such a manner that the activation of one alarm will activate all the alarms in the individual unit.  However, the code lists exceptions. In buildings built before the code was enacted, interconnection is not necessary if it would require removal of interior finishes.

Webster issued blow horns to each floor of North Hall to combat this issue.  Students are told at the beginning of the semester if they see a fire, they must alert others by blowing the air horn.

Jordan chose North Hall for its proximity to campus.  She said she wanted her own kitchen when she applied for housing.  

At $2,615 a semester, North Hall is the second least expensive housing option with full-time access to a kitchen. Big Bend and Glen Park apartments offer limited triple occupancy options with kitchens at $2,290.

Maida Dautovic, another North Hall resident, said she felt comfortable with the responsibility of alerting her hallmates to a fire.  However, she said she did not trust them to be responsible for her life.

“If I started the fire, I’d be out there blowing it,” Dautovic said.  “But they’d be like ‘I have to get out of here.’”

Dautovic said she would not consider living in North Hall again.

According to resident Nina Mead, the lack of an interconnected fire safety system often leads to confusion.  Mead said she can often hear other rooms’ smoke detectors going off. However, she became desensitized to other rooms’ alarms after hearing them so often.

“[The smoke detectors] are super sensitive, so people either shut their doors or they just turn them off after two minutes,” Mead said.

Mead said a building-wide alarm would stop North Hall residents from questioning if their hallmates evacuated before alerting everyone inside.

Director of Public Relations Patrick Giblin said North Hall is a temporary option for students.  The university entered an agreement with Eden Theological Seminary to use North Hall until the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.  

While residents said North Hall provides an affordable option for living on campus, Jordan said she felt like she’s compromising her safety for affordability.

Housing & Residential Life encourages any students with ideas for improvements to attend a Residential Housing Association (RHA) open forum meeting to discuss these topics,” Giblin said.

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