Paly deviants pull alarms and get away — for now

Following a series of false fire alarms last week at Palo Alto High School, Paly students and administration alike continue to wonder who is behind the fire-less alarm pulling, and why they would do such a thing.

Some of the self-described culprits agreed to talk anonymously with The Paly Voice regarding their actions, and their motive for allegedly pulling the fire-alarms seems clear: to avoid taking tests.

“Everybody has tests to take,” the individual, who asked to go by the pseudonym Turner, said. “So, I guess, everyone wants to pull one [fire alarm], so they don’t have to take their finals.”

Two of Turner’s friends also pulled fire alarms “so that they didn’t have to take their finals,” Turner said.

The alarms, which went off at various times last week, prompted the Palo Alto Fire Department onto campus, as well as repeated mandatory evacuations of the school onto the football field.

When a fire alarm is pulled on Paly campus the financial cost is minimal to the Palo Alto Fire Department, according to Deputy Chief of PAFD Operations, Geo Blackshire.

“There is no additional cost to the Fire Department when an alarm is pulled,” Blackshire wrote in an email. “Responding to fire alarms is part of our job description.”

Although there may be no financial cost, Blackshire asserted that simply having firetrucks respond to alarms on campus may or may not be dangerous.

“Generally, there is no danger related to fire alarms,” Blackshire wrote.  “On the other hand, when a fire engine responds to fire alarm with lights and sirens going, the conditions on the road are not as safe as normal traffic conditions. There is a higher risk for emergency responders and citizens on the road.”

Blackshire also noted the “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater effect,” resulting in potential danger to the occupants of the building who, if panicking, can seriously injure themselves or others.

When asked about the potential human cost to the city and school, including various disrupted classes, ruined teaching plans and a stunted presentation by a Stanford University professor, Turner turned a blind eye.

“I mean, we weren’t really worried about that,” Turner said. “We were just worried about ourselves, and hoped we didn’t mess up in school.”

Turner’s friend, who also asked to remain anonymous, was not convinced that Turner will be brought to justice.

“What can the administration do? Nothing,” the friend said. “They can’t do anything; my homeboys aren’t trying to get caught.”

There may be more serious repercussions for Turner, however, it will be difficult to find the individuals involved — if not prove their involvement, according to Paly Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson. 

“I’m going to talk to a few people who may be able to help me [find Turner] and if not? What am I going to do?” Berkson said. “[I will] ask them questions and hopefully they come clean and we’ll go from there.”

Although they may not find those who did the crime, administrators have already taken some measures to prevent future incidents.

“We have spoken to the district office about getting covers for them [the fire alarms]; they’re probably out there already,” Berkson said. “It would be a little bit of a deterrent; people would have to think twice before pulling the alarm.”

As to why somebody would pull the alarm, Berkson was unsure.

“The seniors are always looking for a senior prank,” Berkson said. “Last week was a pretty important week academically, so maybe not. It could have been someone who had something to do for a class, or somebody who does not realize that a felony [pulling a fire alarm] is not a good thing.”

In retrospect, Turner displayed mixed emotions regarding his actions.

“I kind of regret it, but at the same time, who cares?” Turner asked, following with a long pause. “It’s just high school.”