Can you take the heat? Think twice before pulling that fire alarm

Adele Bloch and Will Zhou

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Students pass a firetruck as they make their way to the field. According to National Fire Protection Association, the U.S. fire departments responded to 2,238,000 false alarms in 2012, which corresponds to one false alarm for every twelve calls the fire department receives. Photo by Ana Caklovic

Students pass a firetruck as they make their way to the football field after the fire alarm sounded. According to National Fire Protection Association, the U.S. fire departments responded to 2,238,000 false alarms in 2012, which corresponds to one false alarm for every twelve calls the fire department receives. Photo by Ana Caklovic.

Are you dreading that test next period? Are you just tired of school? Are you thinking of pulling the fire alarm to escape your necessary duties?

Although it may seem like an easy escape route, it turns out that the risks are high. Pulling the fire alarm in the absence of a fire not only has the potential to put students and faculty in danger, but it also puts the perpetrator in the position of potentially being charged with a misdemeanor.

Last Tuesday, when the fire alarm sounded at lunch, students made their way to Palo Alto High School’s football field as they have been conditioned to do for years. Anxious faces looked around for signs of fire or whiffs of smoke, but the safety whistle soon sounded and students were sent back to class.

It was yet another student-mediated false alarm, according to Palo Alto High School Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson.

While faking an emergency may seem harmless, here are several reasons that should make you think twice before setting off that gently resting fire alarm on the wall, softly whispering your name to be pulled.

1. It is a misdemeanor

“It [pulling a false fire alarm] is a citable offense by the police, but it’s debatable if it’s a suspendible offense,” Berkson said.

According to California Penal Code Section 148.4, any individual who willfully tampers with a fire alarm apparatus or transmits any false sense of a fire is punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for a year or less, and or by a fine less than $1,000.

Additionally, if a misdemeanor offense doesn’t deter you, maybe getting caught will. The sheer number of people and cameras around campus make it easy for administrators to find the perpetrator(s), so there is a high risk for pulling it, according to Berkson.

If any eye-witness or camera around school reports or captures an individual or group of people pulling a fire alarm, the perpetrator(s) will face the consequences, according to Berkson.

2. It’s dangerous and takes away from actual emergencies

False fire alarms are dangerous to both students inside of school and individuals within the community.

When there are almost 2,000 students on the field, with some under the impression that there’s a real emergency, havoc can break loose and people can get injured in their stampede to safety. As outlined in the California Penal Code Section 644:3-b, false alarms have the potential to cause injury and even death. Under those circumstances, the perpetrators can be charged with felonies.

On top of this, when a fire alarm is pulled, firetrucks are immediately notified and they begin to head to Paly. If someone is injured at school on their way to the football field, it may be necessary for an ambulance and potentially the police to come to the scene as well. However, if an even greater emergency is occurring elsewhere, it will take a considerable amount of time for the emergency personnel to arrive to the remote location.

“You are taking away resources if there was a fire [happening elsewhere],” Berkson said.

False alarms also desensitize students and can pose a danger in the event of a real fire.

“I feel like people don’t take the alarms seriously,” freshman Vivian Yang said. “We walk really slowly and its unrealistic.”

3. It wastes time

An alarm delays both students and faculty from completing their current tasks. The time it takes to ensure that each student is present, as well as have all members walk from the football field and back to class takes a considerable amount of time, according to Berkson.

“It’s a disruption of class,” Berkson said. “Individually, there are a lot of tasks that need to be done and they add up. It is a whole operation.”

Fire alarms also directly affect the classroom.

“Some class periods are really tightly designed where every minute really counts and there is a lot that needs to get accomplished, so that tends to be more upsetting,” english teacher Melissa Laptalo said. “One class might have a fire alarm and another class doesn’t, and it gets your classes off rhythm from one another.”

Students also find the alarms to be disruptive.

“I feel like it violates the integrity of the classrooms in which we are exploring the nature of education,” Yang said. “It takes too long and we sit in the cold or heat.”

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