This is not a drill

For students living on campus, a 3:30 a.m. fire alarm evacuation on just one floor of a residence hall can seem like a hassle, but according to University officials, it is also completely appropriate.

Depending on the building classification, students can be evacuated by individual bedrooms, suites or floors, or by an entire building — a system that makes building evacuations more efficient, said Kelly Best, associate director for facilities for USF Housing and Residential  Education.

The fire code — also known as the life safety code — determines how smoke detectors react in a particular building and whether an entire floor or just a particular bedroom is evacuated, he said.

“Our different residence halls are considered different types of buildings by the fire code,” Best said. “This is where you could be confused, because the fire alarm system reacts differently in Delta than it does in Holly Apartments, for example.”

Best said there are three different styles of buildings on campus based on the fire code: dormitory, suite and apartment.

Beta and Castor halls are considered dormitory style because the bedrooms are off the corridor, he said. Andros, Maple, and Cypress A and B are suite style, with two individual bedrooms adjacent to a bathroom, and the remaining residential halls are apartments, he said.

In the USF residence halls, smoke detectors are located in bedrooms and common areas of buildings — like the lobbies and hallways — as well as common kitchens, Best said.

“If it’s a suite or apartment then there is a smoke detector out in the suite or apartment. Some of the apartments (have) no smoke detectors in the bedroom, but there are detectors in the hallway outside of the bedrooms,” he said.

The dorms also have heat detectors located in janitorial closets and maintenance rooms of each building in addition to pull stations near each residence hall exit.

Because each building is designed differently, the fire code is open to interpretation by local fire marshals or inspectors.

“So when a building is designed, the architect and the fire alarm sub-contractor will take a look at the style of the building, take a look at the code and they will determine how the fire alarm system is supposed to operate,” Best said.

The residence halls are required to have one official fire drill per semester — overseen by the USF Residential Education Office and University Police (UP) — and after that official fire drill, all other alarms are taken seriously.

UP spokeswoman Meg Ross said UP is the primary answer point for 911 on campus.

“We send officers to all fire alarms, and we also send Tampa Fire (Rescue) unless we know for sure that there is no fire,” she said.

Ross tallied the number of fire alarms that occurred in the residence halls from Nov. 2, 2008 to Feb. 2, 2009.

“We had over 100 fire alarms in the residence halls,” Ross said. “We are responding to about one a day. This is probably a slow period for us, too, because the Christmas break was included in (the count).”

Best said a false alarm to students is not necessarily a false alarm to the fire marshal.

“A student may consider burnt popcorn to be a false alarm,” Best said. “The fire marshal does not consider that a false alarm because the system was activated by something burning.”

Danielle Dever, a Cypress Apartments resident and a freshman majoring in elementary education, said she believes the fire alarms at USF are too sensitive.

“They go off so often, then nobody even leaves the building anymore,” she said.