Thanks to IBN News  for alerting me to this story (it’s a good thing I still have that Google alert for Dickson College!).
There was a fire in a classroom at about 12:40pm on Tuesday at Dickson College. Police are calling the fire “suspicious”. According to ACT Police  about 600 students were evacuated, and a teacher hurt her foot during the evacuation. As a police investigation is currently underway, I will reserve my comments on this particular fire for another date.
I have fond memories of the strange activities that they liked to call fire drills when I was a student at Dickson College though. I remember one in particular where everyone was evacuated in a semi-chaotic manner…once outside, nobody quite knew how far away from the building everyone was supposed to be. At first all the students were able to go virtually anywhere they wanted to, then an exclusion zone of about twenty metres was setup around the front office, followed by a fire brigade official telling the then-deputy principal that the students were too close to the building…so they moved us closer to another one instead. Nobody had the faintest clue what was going on, not even the people who organised the drill.
The only other times I can remember the fire alarm ever going off at Dickson College is when the alarm actually thought something was wrong, it was rarely ever right, but it did happen often enough to remove any real need for fire drills.
People who have been reading this blog for a long time would remember that when I was a student at Dickson College I was also an employee there, and I clearly remember working in the tiny LOTE (Languages Other Than English) computer lab in the morning during one of the school holidays. I was busy working when the fire alarm went off. I did a quick check of my surroundings and could see and smell no smoke or fire, so I got my things together so that I could quickly evacuate if I needed to, and continued working.
The fire alarm at Dickson was separated in to two components, one was the “user friendly” control panel which certain staff had access to, the other was the actual fire detection system which the Fire Brigade has access to. The “user friendly” system was used for the emergency intercom system and basic control of the alert and evacuate tones. Standard procedure was usually for the registrar to open this, make an announcement that the alarm is being investigated, and silence the alarm while investigations were carried out.
On this particular day there was no announcement and there was no silencing, so ten minutes in to the alarm, the automated evacuation program kicked in…an endless loop of an American voice saying “Please proceed to the nearest exit and evacuate in an orderly manner” twice, followed by a few cycle of the evacuation “whoop whoop” tone.
There was still no sign of smoke or fire, and by this stage it was quite clear that I may have been the only staff member in the building as the alarm automatically gets silenced when the door on the “user friendly” alarm control system gets opened, so I picked up my things and quickly walked towards the front office. When I got there I saw the registrar battling with the door on the control system which appeared to be jammed…she informed me that the fire was non-existent, and the alarm had been set off by tradesmen removing asbestos from the art building. I waited with her in the front office until the official all clear was given by the Fire Brigade, after which I went back to work.
Later on in the day when I saw my Indian boss, the head of the IT department, again I asked him where he was during the alarm…amazingly, despite an alarm speaker being situated right outside his office, and the smoke doors in the same area automatically closing quite noisily, he told me that he wasn’t aware that the alarm had gone off. He had been sitting in his office working, wondering what the noise was…even the automated evacuation alarm wasn’t enough for him to consider that something may have been wrong…but then again, he wasn’t particularly bright. He has improved since, and even has IT qualifications now (he had a horticulture degree or something at the time).