Bolton fire: Students have become dangerously desensitised to fire alarms

Last Friday night, 100 students were evacuated from Bolton University accommodation block ‘The Cube’ as a huge fire caught hold. Two people were injured, a hamster was saved, and enquiries have been launched into the safety of student accommodation blocks across the UK. But what has been the main talking point among students this week is the fact that many residents ignored the alarm as they reported it goes off every day, and their friends had to bang on their doors to tell them it was real. Many didn’t realise what was going on until they smelled smoke.

This is something many of us can relate to. People outside of universities may think that the residents were being stupid not to immediately evacuate the building when the alarm was triggered, but if your accommodation is anything like mine was, you’ll know that fire drills and evacuations over burnt toast are a weekly occurrence (at least!). I remember one night, the alarm in my halls went off and my flatmate sauntered down 10 minutes later – he hadn’t even been woken immediately because we were so used to the sound. Constantly testing the alarms and having fire drills had desensitised him.

I realise that universities and student accommodation providers are under an obligation to check the fire alarms regularly and that they need to be in working order; the Bolton fire could have had a far worse result if the alarms had not been working. However, unis could at least test the alarms in a less disruptive way! We used to have our alarms set off every Wednesday at 9 am, which is a painful time in the morning for anyone, let alone students. Part of living in a rented house now is that I don’t test my detectors every week, and believe it or not, they have never stopped working! Probably because weekly testing is a bit excessive. You should test your smoke detector every 6 months and change the batteries once a year.

I hope that the universities will consider how much they conduct their fire alarm drills in the future, as it was mainly due to the high quantity of tests and false alarms that the Bolton students were so unreactive when it was a real fire. However, I do realise that the universities can’t do anything if student cooking is constantly setting alarms off…

Despite the awful event of the fire, at least no-one was killed. And it has been really heart-warming to see how so many generous people have donated their money (£10,000 has been crowdfunded) and time to help the affected students get back on their feet. I really can’t imagine what I would do if my room was on fire, mainly because the loss of my laptop would be devastating (I hate having to say that) as my entire degree relies on it! Let’s hope all the Bolton students will be able to recover their work, and I’m sure that they will have the utmost support from the uni and everyone around them.

Image: BBC

Michaela Clancy

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