Glory Reitz — Co-Editor
The Halloween costume party didn’t go down in flames, but the Dordt University Campus Center fire alarms did not get the memo. Costumed students began to arrive around 9 p.m. on Oct. 21, but by about 9:25 p.m. they were evacuating the building to the sound of wailing fire alarms.
When the fire department got there, students were standing in a colorful cluster beneath the clock tower. The fire engines’ red-and-blue lights flashed over the students’ costumes as they waited to be let back into the building, chatting as if the party hadn’t faltered.
By 9:47 p.m., the firemen were filing out of the building, telling students they could go back in, but the alarm might go off again. They could not tell what had triggered the alarm, but said the Dordt maintenance department was looking into it.
A similar-sounding alarm had been going off earlier that day in the Campus Center, but instead of a fire alarm, it was a “trouble” alarm, according to Josh Dorhout, Dordt’s facilities and services director. This alarm doesn’t mean anything is on fire. It’s an alert that there is something wrong with the alarm system. In this case, it was a ground error.
The maintenance team began looking into the issue, continually silencing the alarm as they tried to find the root of the problem. By the evening, the alarm was quiet until a little while into the Halloween party.
“I was… talking with my friends, and the fire alarm interrupted me,” Carolyn Rayhons, a senior, said of the alarm at the costume party. “It was so rude.”
“Totally not cash money of it,” Justine Combs, a junior, added.
Rayhons was dressed as Wendy from Gravity Falls, but the red wig she had ordered was too curly for the part, so her dark hair hung uncovered. Because Wendy’s outfit looks a lot like street clothes, she left her glasses off to show she was in costume.
Combs was dressed as a pirate, with dark eyeliner, a wide-cuffed black coat she’d found in a closet back home, and skirt and shirt she had sewn herself and drawn together with a corset. She wore no shoes, gripping the chilly sidewalk with her bare toes.
At about 47 degrees, with the occasional breath of gentle wind, the students did not need to worry about the cold. But when the fire department had given them the “OK,” they were quick to pour back into the Grille area’s orange mood lighting.
“Let’s party!” Someone yelled. The music’s volume increased, and a few students began to bounce, their costumes swaying to the beat.
The next day, the fire alarm system continued blaring false alarms. The maintenance department called in an electrician and deactivated about a third of the system to bring some quiet for the ACT testing scheduled for that morning.
All seemed well until Monday morning, when the Campus Center greeted people with warm, stagnant air. The air handler was running, but no air was moving. At the same time, the hot water had stopped working.
Someone went to the basement to investigate and found a water leak from a pressurized pipe. The slim spray of water had aimed itself at the control panel that shares the mechanical room, soaking a spot the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen, according to Josh Dorhout. This tiny but steady stream had shorted out the Campus Center fire alarm system.
The alarm system was a simple fix, Dorhout said. Maintenance only needed to replace one small chip to dismiss the trouble alerts and allow airflow to return. They had to order a part to fix the hot water, but in the meantime they were able to switch to a manual control.
“There’s no big fancy story,” Dorhout said. “It was just a water leak that happened to spray…. It could have been a lot worse.”
Photo credit: Glory Reitz