False biohazard alarm, again

By Rene Bodack

The University of Calgary Science A building was evacuated during reading week due to a strong odour in the basement that brought the fire department and hazmat team to campus.

A sewer gas leak releasing a strong chemical odor alarmed a safety staff member on Tue., Feb. 21. Due to the possible threat of chemicals present in Science A, campus security evacuated the building before investigating the source.

Students and faculty only had to stay outside a few minutes, since the fire department identified the threat as a sewer gas leak and declared the building safe.

A similar incident happened on Thu., Feb. 16, when a fire alarm went off in Mathematical Sciences. The fire department and hazmat team were called and the building was evacuated, according to U of C fire prevention officer Chantelle McIver.

Campus Security manager Lanny Fritz mentioned false alarms like this happen very often for various reasons.

“Many alarms go off because they are dirty,” he said, noting alarms use lasers to detect particles in the air.

“It could be somebody pulled the poll station as a prank,” added McIver.

Although every false alarm costs the university $500, totalling approximately $40,000 in 2004, Fritz and McIver stressed the university has a solid record in fire and false alarm prevention as well as in fire damage reduction.

“We reduce our fire alarms by at least 20 per cent each year,” said McIver, noting investments in fire security and the fire warden program made the university the best performing institution in Calgary and earned the maximum possible fee refund of $17,000 for 2004. Numbers for 2005 are not yet available, but McIver said she will apply for a refund again.

Fritz explained a remarkable share of the positive assessment accounts to the fire warden program.

“We have a thousand volunteers on campus,” he said. “So whenever there is an evacuation in a building there are people who sweep through the floor and make sure everyone is out. Every area is covered by a volunteer.”


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