Fire Alarm Streak Traced to Snack Food

    In addition to other miscellaneous housing problems that have affected residents of Tioga Hall in John Muir College this quarter, the list has now grown by one – a faulty setting on recently purchased microwaves has led to their recall after causing at least two false fire alarms in the past few weeks.

    Erik Jepsen/Guardian
    John Muir College freshman Walker Ryan puts popcorn into a Tioga Hall microwave, despite the removal of more than 20 appliances due to microwave smoke setting off false fire alarms.

    According to Muir Resident Dean Pat Danylyshyn-Adams, 20 microwaves have been removed from the building after the “”popcorn”” setting was found to be malfunctioning. When students used the setting and did not carefully monitor their popcorn, the machines overheated and triggered smoke alarms, forcing residents of the 11-floor building to evacuate.

    Four false alarms have gone off in Tioga since the beginning of the quarter, but according to Housing and Dining Services Director Mark P. Cunningham, only two or three incidents could be conclusively linked to the microwaves.

    The appliances were purchased during a summer remodeling effort to accommodate the influx of this year’s record-size freshman class. Along with the renovation came newly installed fire alarms, which operate on a higher level of sensitivity than the building’s previous alarm system.

    Although the fire alarms have been a source of irritation for Tioga residents, they are working properly in the way they were designed, UCSD Assistant Fire Marshal Donald R. Anderson said.

    “”The system does what it’s supposed to do,”” he said. “”I don’t call it a problem. I call it a problem with training students.””

    However, Anderson said that the sensitivity of the alarms will be adjusted in order to curb the number of future incidents, including implementing a new verification system which will require an alarm to sense smoke for 30 consecutive seconds before going off.

    “”We’re not dropping the level of safety, we’re dropping the level of nuisance,”” Anderson said.

    In the city of San Diego, a fire alarm permit can be revoked after more than two false alarms occur in a 30 day span, according to fire alarm and safety Web site However, as the alarms were responding to actual smoke within the building, Cunningham said that UCSD is not experiencing any problems with the fire department.

    “”The fire department was responding to an actual alarm where a smoke detector was set off by smoke,”” Cunningham stated in an e-mail.

    The false alarms and lack of microwaves have posed nuisances for residents, with the most recent alarm going off in the early morning. Some students, however, have been affected more seriously.

    Muir freshman Min Kyu Cho, one of the students who inadvertently set off an alarm by overcooking popcorn, said that he has been placed on housing probation until March 2007 for allegedly endangering the lives of Tioga residents.

    “”I do understand it was my fault for putting popcorn in for four minutes and not being with it the whole time, but I think the probation that I was given is too harsh,”” Cho stated in an e-mail.

    Danylyshyn-Adams, who placed Cho on probation, said that she could not comment on the situation because it deals with a specific instance of student discipline.

    According to Danylyshyn-Adams, educating students about proper microwave use is necessary to stop further false alarms from happening.

    “”Education has been something that we’ve been trying to emphasize,”” she said.

    Even though microwaves are no longer present, a series of satirical flyers have been posted within the hall to advise students that “”fire alarms are lame”” and “”real alarms are important.”” The flyers, which feature Smokey the Bear seated in a tub of popcorn, embody a more lighthearted view that some students have adopted regarding the situation.

    “”My Hot Pockets have freezer burn, and I was woken up at 2 a.m. this weekend because some kids don’t know how to make popcorn,”” Muir freshman David Govea stated in an e-mail.

    The alarms are not the first instance of trouble with the new Tioga remodel, with some students complaining to Cunningham earlier in the year about delayed furniture arrivals and inadequate bathroom supplies. However, the microwave issue is being fixed in every effort to ensure student safety on campus, Cunningham said.

    Replacement microwaves will hopefully be installed by the beginning of winter quarter, Danylyshyn-Adams said. According to Cunningham, they will be carefully examined for the accuracy of their settings before they will be provided to students. As of press time, he could not be reached for comment as to the estimated cost of the new microwaves.

    Readers can contact Matt L’Heureux at [email protected].

    2:35 PM

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