Dinner Cut Short Again…

Water Pressure Fluctuations Cause Fire Alarm To Go Off

On the eve of October 4th, I found myself sitting in ODB with a friend listening to the shriek of the fire alarmas it drifted through the window of the Gray Community Center (GCC). What was up with that fire alarm? And why was it going on so long? With these important questions, the Quest reached out to Gary Granger for the answers.

“I don’t believe it was an actual fire,” says Mike Bucuvalas, Director of Dining Services. The alarm set off in Commons that fateful day was not, thankfully, triggered by a fire. And while it may have seemed like it came from the dining hall, it was actually triggered by a water flow sensor in the GCC’s sprinklers. .

The GCC’s alarm panel, as Granger explains, shows the cause of the notifications and alarms. These can be many things in addition to actual fires, including notifications of a “trouble signal” when a sensor stops working, a disruption in the communication system, or even a self test failure. “Our response to alarms,” he elaborates, “as opposed to other notifications is different in that alarms indicate a high potential for fire and, therefore, risk to life.”

In this case, the water flow alarm was set off. While there was no actual fire, a responding CSO surveyed the GCC, SU, and Commons for a fire or obvious signs of water leaking. Granger said that “When the CSO determined that they could neither find an obvious source for the alarm, nor immediately and easily determine that it was false, they called for the on-call maintenance staff to take over.”

Indeed, the connected buildings have a lot of ground to cover. Granger explains, “it is normal practice NOT to disable an alarm until the cause of the alarm has been found, lest people think it is safe to re-enter an evacuated building before it is safe to do so.” After an hour or so the alarm was still blaring, but people had re-entered Commons and continued eating. “Not ideal,” says Granger. But it’s hard to manage the doors whilst also looking for the cause. Since there was no obvious immediate threat of danger, like smoke rising from the building, people likely thought it was safe to reenter. 

Facilities found that the water-flow sensor was triggered by a fluctuation of pressure in the pipes. This pressure is used to hold the water back, and can be affected by heat or damage from a fire. Because pressure is monitored in order to ensure that sprinklers are always ready in the case of a fire, the alarm sounded when there was a pressure fluctuation despite no water flowing and no fire burning.

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