Campus fire protocols in place for a reason

SARA BERTSCH Editor-in-Chief

There’s one story that everyone loves to complain about and share: fire alarms. 

Whether it’s 2 a.m. in a residence hall or in the middle of taking an online exam in The Union, every student on campus seems to have his or her own tale to tell. 

Rie Barnes is no different. Barnes, a senior early childhood education major, will never forget her experience in Young Hall. The night before the alarm, the university sent out a campus-wide email warning students about the -40 degree windchill the next day and stating they should “bundle up.” 

Barnes and her roommate were prepared for the cold walk to classes; however, they were not prepared for the 5:30 a.m. fire alarm. 

“We all climbed out of bed with our coats and our comforters wrapped around us outside while they cleared the building. They didn’t know the cause,” she said. “Eventually they figured out that it was so cold that it messed with the sensor and it went off.”

And now three years later, Barnes still remembers every detail of that early morning in the middle of a South Dakota winter. Barnes’ roommate was reluctant to get out of bed, but it was mandatory. 

Students not leaving for fire alarms is an issue on campus according to Jayme Trygstad, the emergency management specialist on campus. 

“We need to treat all alarms as if they are real,” Trygstad said. “They cannot assume it is false, because the one time they don’t, it could cost them their life or the lives of others.”

One way SDSU tries to deter this problem is by installing building wardens. This is a program put in place three years ago to assist individuals in buildings to evacuate or get safety information. 

There is a building warden in every campus building holding occupants. This position is voluntary and requires the individual to undergo training and to always be prepared in case of an alarm. 

There are also area and floor wardens for buildings that have multiple floors. Their job is to help notify people about the alarm as they exit the building. 

Each building warden has a yellow backpack filled with supplies including fluorescent vests, gloves, a whistle, a flashlight, batteries and a small first aid kit. 

When fire alarms go off, the University Police Department is immediately notified and is the first responder on scene, said Don Challis, assistant vice president of safety and security. 

The officers clear the building and determine if it is necessary to contact the Brookings Fire Department, which is also a voluntary body. 

It is not often that the fire department is called in, but it is still an area that they want to be more proficient in, Challis said. 

Residential halls have fire drills once a semester. This year, the university is doing something new — fire drills in academic buildings. This will take place once a year. 

As far as false alarms go, Brian Bisson, the building operations manager in residential life, said they probably have them once or twice a month. 

Typically, the alarms are set off by burnt food or even hairspray. Even though some students think this is a little much, it’s a good thing in Bisson’s mind. 

“It’s doing it’s job,” Bisson said. “It’s one of the most important things we do. Our primary goal is to keep residents safe.” 

Whether fire alarms occur in the middle of the night or early in the morning like Barnes experienced, they are mandatory and might even save a life. 

And now Barnes will have a story she can tell for years to come. 

“It was the highlight of my freshman year,” Barnes said.


Connor Branick — Senior, Microbiology and Biotechnology

My freshmen year was spent in Brown Hall 2012-2013. We had I think 3 fire alarms that turned out to be false. The worst was 6am on a Saturday. This was also one of the Saturdays that the track and field team did not have a morning practice scheduled. Nonetheless, I begrudgingly got out of bed and managed to make it out of the building in 2 or 3 minutes, starting from the first door on first floor.

As for fire drills, we were always at practice when they were scheduled. They did a great job at warning us all before they would test our response time. However, after all the false alarms some students thought they didn’t need to leave their rooms. This is a problem should there be an actual fire one day. I’m just thankful I wasn’t in Matthews Hall, they had way more false alarms than Brown Hall.


Tim Reed — Mayor of Brookings

I was student living on 3rd Binnewies Hall in 1984 and the fire alarm was pulled so many times after bar closing on Wednesday nights we started to ignore them until someone would yell at us to get out.  One night a friend and I were in the day when the alarm went off.  We didn’t react until smoke started flowing out of one of the vents.  Then we were the ones yelling at everyone to get out.  Turned out someone on first floor put a pizza still in the box into the oven and then fell asleep on one of the couches.


Rie Barnes — Senior, Elementary Education

I was living in Young Hall and the University that there would be -40 degree wind chill the next day and we were all prepared to be cold. At 5:30 in the morning I heard the fire alarm going off and I thought “are you kidding me?”. I had to wake up my roommate. She just went back to sleep so we all climbed out of bed with our coats and our comforters wrapped around us outside while they cleared the building. They didn’t know the cause. They figured out that it was so cold that it messed with the sensor and it went off. That’s what the front desk people told us. It might have been 15 minutes but it felt like forever. We just stood right out That was the highlight of freshman year. It was terrible. It is not something I wish to relive. It was so cold.