Fire alarms: Do ours work?

September 20, 2018


You could still smell the evidence Thursday morning of what happens when fire alarms do not work.

Residents of a seniors housing complex on the edge of the Capitol Hill-Navy Yard neighborhoods learned that lesson Wednesday, when the upper floors of their four-story building burst into flames.

Blessedly, passers-by and more than a few proud Marines managed to usher the elderly, many of these folks have disabilities or use wheelchairs, to safety.

Fire and police authorities were still on the scene at the Arthur Capper Senior Public Housing complex Thursday afternoon, barricading streets and trying to determine what exactly happened when the blaze began.

As the investigation continues, one thing has become a matter of fact: The fire alarms did not work.

Makes you wonder, eh, whether fire alarms in your children’s schools, your house of worship, your apartment or condo building or even in your favorite eatery actually work. Your parents’ or grandparents’ nursing home or retirement facility.

What about that hotel your family vacationed in this summer or the one you stayed at while you situated your oldest boy for his freshman year at college?

Parents and friends visiting the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found out the hard way that there were no rooms at a neighboring hotel, the 198-room Garden Hotel, because Urbana officials had shut down the facility. The problem? Its faulty fire alarm system.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students and faculty have barely recovered from the bloody rampage of the Valentine’s Day shooting that killed 17 people. The start of this school year scared the daylights out of them when the fire alarm system began ringing out of the blue.

There was no blaze and no one was physically injured. Someone had tripped the alarm. But teary-eyed students were understandably unnerved.

Not coincidentally, because of the tragedy at Douglas and other campus shootings, school systems across the country are employing various policies to signal staff and students into action if there is, for example, an active shooter or threat inside a schoolhouse.

Many school districts are reviving fire and safety drills and they should be, since that was standard school policy for decades and the terror attacks of 9/11 somewhat prompted schools to blow the dust off those policies. School shootings have forced them to rethink practices and policies, and that is how it should be.

The fire at Arthur Capper and the blazes you read about here and in other media are reminders, however, that “better safe than sorry” is more than a cautionary catchphrase. Smokey Bear is a preventive mouthpiece for fires not only in forests but also inside four walls and under floor boards, too.

Indeed, some facilities including schools, hotels, college dorms and senior housing facilities are so old they have to be totally rewired to handle today’s fire-safety technology.

In other words, it’s not merely the HVAC systems and the plaster walls that are crumbling.

So here’s the deal. The Trump administration wants to rebuild America’s infrastructure, right? Does your city, county or state include fire-safety technology in its plans to grab some of the federal money?

Do you even know if the fire alarms work where you and your family frequent?

Do not wait and find out the hard way.

This is grown-folk business, and you know that I know that you know you can’t blame everything on the Donald.

Fire safety is a local issue, and asking the pertinent question do our fire alarms work? must be asked of the people you elected to work for you and yours.

Let’s be safe, OK?

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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