New Residence tower evacuated for sixth time

Fire trucks and evacuated students gather outside the new residence building. Photo - Taylor MacPherson

Fire trucks and evacuated students gather outside the new residence building. Photo – Taylor MacPherson

“Mischief” and “possible water pressure issues” leave students in the cold

It’s almost one in the morning on Tuesday, Oct. 21, and I’m suddenly awoken from my bed in the new residence building by piercing alarms and flashing LEDs. Again.

As I stumble around my room in search of pants, a pre-recorded voice announces, “there has been a fire reported in the building,” and that I am to evacuate as soon as possible. My roommate is already stumbling out of his bedroom, and we plod down the stairs together, the sounds of doors and tired footsteps growing louder in the concrete stairwell. Somehow my exhausted brain reminded me that it was cold outside, and I grabbed gloves and a scarf before heading out.

We exit through the emergency doors at the bottom of the West tower, and step down a sheer drop into a mud-hole. By the time we reach the fence, my shoes (and my roommate’s flip-flops) have quadrupled in size and weight. At this point we realize there is no gate, and we are trapped ten metres from a building that might soon be consumed by fire. Luckily the construction fencing is flimsy, and we are tall enough to unhitch the top of a section of fence, making our own gate.

Students are pouring out of the main entrance into the night air (which was as cold as -1C, according to weather reports). Some are huddled under blankets, while others shiver visibly in their pajamas. Nobody appears to be directing the mob, and students mill about, unsure of where to go or what to do next.

“I’m not sure [what’s going on],” said Brandon, an engineering student. “I’ve heard rumors that the boiler room downstairs is going haywire again. That’s kind of been an ongoing thing this semester.”

Jeff, another engineering student living in the new residence, told me that this represents the sixth time that his building had been evacuated since the start of the semester, a number confirmed by the University.

“It’s been later [than 12:45am] before,” Jeff told the Carillon.

Nursing student Trenna Sanborn spoke to the Carillon from deep within the folds of a comforter, only her face exposed to the cold.

“We’ve been evacuated for the fifth time this month. I don’t know if this is a real fire or not.”

To her knowledge only two of the evacuations have been legitimate, the results of small fires or cooking accidents in student rooms. The rest have been false alarms.

Sanborn told the Carillon she had been waiting outside for “fifteen minutes, but it’s quarter to one in the morning, and I have class tomorrow at 9 a.m.”

She added that the average length of the evacuations is “about forty-five minutes to an hour and a half.”

Stephanie, a kinesiology student, made no effort to hide her frustration.

“So there’s lots of people, including myself, with midterms tomorrow morning, and to be woken up after midnight is not the greatest thing when you have a midterm, because you have to sleep for that. It’s annoying and disrespectful for someone to just pull a fire alarm on their way out because they think it’s funny.”

Shortly after the fire truck arrived, the lobby of the Luther building was unlocked, and chilly students herded inside by tired-looking officials in Day-Glo vests.

“The fire alarm went off,” said one Residence official. “We don’t know exactly what happened.”

Inside Luther, students chatted animatedly, mumbled curses under their breath, or simply curled up on the tile floor under any available bedding to try and get some sleep. No bathroom facilities were unlocked for the hundreds of refugee students, and no drinking water was available.

Thankfully, our time as refugees was short. After about half an hour, one of the orange-vested officials loudly announced that we were free to re-enter our home, to try and salvage the remains of the night’s sleep.

In an official statement to the Carillon, the Director of Student Affairs Operations wrote, “The circumstances around each evacuation have been varied, ranging from possible water pressure issues to allegations of mischief involving pulling the fire alarm without cause. Investigations into these cases are still ongoing. This type of continued inconvenience to students… is unacceptable and we are working hard to learn from these incidents to determine how we can avoid unnecessary evacuations in the future.”

“In the event of a prolonged evacuation from residence, alternate indoor locations are noted within the handbook. Residence Assistants act as Emergency Wardens…ensuring students residing in the towers are aware of these indoor locations if the weather is bad or a lengthy evacuation is required. Should the situation be particularly prolonged, Residence Services would work to find temporary lodging for affected students.”

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