home Top News We Didn’t Start the Fire: A Retrospective of False Alarms

We Didn’t Start the Fire: A Retrospective of False Alarms

| Corwin Davison | cdavison20@dtechhs.org | November 21, 2019 |

The clocks of Design Tech had just ticked past noon on Monday. In Calculus, David Groat was finishing up a lesson on limits and continuity, when class was interrupted by the shrill blaring of the fire alarm. As was procedure, everyone headed out into the parking lot. This wasn’t planned, the teachers said. So what was going on? As it turned out, the events started in chemistry.

Artistic interpretation of what happened. Provided By Olivia Moody

That day in chemistry, the class was engaged in an experiment concerning the rates of temperature changes in beakers of oil. The beakers were placed upon a wire mesh on a suspended metal circle, with a flame underneath. Earlier that day, some oil had been spilled on the mesh. Attempts had been made to clean it off, but they were only mildly successful. However, there were only 8 meshes, and if one was taken out, one group wouldn’t be able to do the experiment. Chemistry Teacher Greg Fenner was “motivated to see if we could use it to help that group continue their testing.” The mesh was deemed sufficiently clean, and the experiment went on. The first time it was used, some smoke was generated, but past that the experiment went fine. But, later in the day, “It smoked a lot more than other periods,” and the fire alarm went off. 

When the alarm sounded, Fenner was “actually really surprised.” When the building was being constructed, he had been in some communication with the design team. “I remember telling them that we need to be able to burn things in the lab,” Fenner recalled, “because it’s a chemistry lab, and we’re gonna be doing investigations, involving fire, and energy, and burning things.” Nobody ever got back to him, but he “assumed that since [he] had told them what [his] needs were, and they didn’t respond, that they were accepting that was an okay practice, and so [they’ve] been burning things in [the chemistry room] for the last, like, two years.” Still, one way or the other, smoke detectors have wound up in the Chemistry room.

As to what happens now,  Fenner has been informed by Oracle that for the moment, open flame in the chemistry room is out. This newfound hurdle to teaching his class is, in his words, “annoying, and kind of ridiculous.” Apparently, the problem isn’t strictly the flame, but the smoke it generates that sets off the alarm. In the long term, Fenner hopes to return open flames to his classroom, but he has plans to move smoke-inducing flames to the area outside World History Teacher Michael Gutierrez’s room.

However, outside in the parking lot that day, away from the flames, there wasn’t just annoyance amongst the upperclassmen, but nostalgia. Reminiscences of Former Physics Teacher Chris Wall, remembrances of past incidents. As it happens, this was not the first time d.tech had an alarm go off for frivolous reasons.

Some four years ago, Wall was burning open session cards just before first period, which, perhaps unsurprisingly, set off the fire alarm. As recollected by senior Aaron Tung, “We were about to give a presentation, I was about to go, and it was like, ‘[fire alarm onomatopoeia], go outside.’” The inhabitants of 1800 Rollins Road were hurriedly rushed out of the building into the parking lot, where a period of confused waiting ensued. Once it had been established that the building was not in fact on fire, the students re-entered the building, and the day went on.

Tung and Fenner also recall a building evacuation near the end of d.tech’s occupation of the Rollins campus, on account of a worrying smell of gasoline in the chemistry room.  

The next year, late into the year, a much scarier false alarm happened: that of the lockdown drill. It came midway through fourth period on a Friday, when the lockdown alarm of d.tech’s new building went off. This was scary enough for much of the student body (there were reports of panic attacks), but to some, it seemed evident that it was a false alarm, As Tung recalled, “there were some kids playing Clash of Clans with their noise on.” Either way, after a few minutes, it was over and normality was restored. The incident might have gone over as not much more than a minor annoyance, if not for the fact that the lockdown alarm went off again the following Tuesday. This time, it lasted longer than a few minutes, getting close to an hour. It was eventually established by thoroughly apologetic administrators during an impromptu community meeting in the DRG that malfunctioning equipment (and the accidental actions of technicians) had been behind the events.

Most recently, the fire alarm went off earlier in 2019 during a community meeting, despite the lack of an actual fire. The student body was ushered out of the building, and the community meeting was cut short.

It should be noted that, while an attempt was made, this may be nowhere near a complete account of false alarms at d.tech. There has been a good amount of them over the years, and there may well be some again. As long as the school doesn’t actually burn down, we’ll be fine. 

One thought on “We Didn’t Start the Fire: A Retrospective of False Alarms

  1. I remember originally hearing that the fire alarm was started by the upper DRG’s laser cutter, which made sense and likely spread a bit because we were in the DRG at the time of the alarm sounding and the laser cutter had recently caused a small flame to trail behind where it was cutting. It makes me think how hard it would be to accurately figure out what the actual story is.

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