Smoke detector malfunction triggers fire alarm

A faulty smoke detector in the Palo Alto High School Tower Building triggered a fire alarm at 9:35 a.m. Wednesday morning, forcing students to evacuate to the football field.

Palo Alto High School students evacuate towards the football field during a false fire alarm on Wednesday morning. Junior Giada Parigi reported that the volume of the fire alarm caused an atmosphere of confusion. “It [the fire alarm] seemed much louder than it has been in the past, so no one could really hear what was going on,” she said. Photo: Daniel Garepis-Holland.

The alarm was the first since students returned to in-person classes, and it was triggered just before school was scheduled to begin. Junior Giada Parigi, who had been walking to her math class, said that she and her classmates felt disoriented by the fire alarm.

“People were like ‘Where do we go?’, just kind of wandering around, ” Parigi said. “I was with one of my friends and we started to walk towards the lacrosse field, but then there was another teacher who said, ‘No, go this other way.'”

Parigi said that the fire alarm struck her as familiar, given Paly’s abundant history of fire alarm disturbances.

“I kind of jokingly said, ‘Oh, now I feel like I’m really back on campus,'” she said. “It seemed very [much like] Paly.”

Students were allowed to return to their classes at 9:50 a.m. after the school administration announced that it had been a false alarm.

Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson added that there is little the school can do to stop false alarms caused by smoke detector malfunctions.

“I wouldn’t say it was a lack of maintenance or a manufactur[ing] issue,” Berkson wrote in a message to the Voice. “Sometimes they [fire alarms] just malfunction. Most of the time you don’t know you have a problem until the problem happens.”

Berkson added that a fire alarm can be triggered by a variety of different circumstances.

“Burnt toast in the tower building, smoke from a science experiment, vaping in the bathrooms, to name a few,” he said. “[Even] a spider walking through [a smoke detector].”