University Halls / Fire-alarms

I was wondering if anyone who has lived in halls could give me advice/suggestions, or just general suggestions from anyone that might work.

I live in a large uni hall with almost 500 students. I'm on the top floor which is normally fine as there are lifts. I live in halls because of my asthma and other needs, which the halls staff are very aware of (they've had to call out the green men a few times) and generally pretty good with (well after a LOT of education!!).

The big problem I'm having is with fire-alarms, these happen every week to two weeks, and happened today. Because they are not drills but are caused by students smoking/cooking/whatever, everyone has to evacuate and the fire-brigade have to come to make sure the building is safe.

We have to go down the fire-escapes/stairs as the lifts can't be used and often the halls staff/senior students are there making sure everyone leaves and quickly. We have to go outside where the air is at this time of year very cold (especially compared with coming straight from inside and without preparing with scarf etc) and the assembly point is (ironically I think) also the smoking point and the first thing a good half of the students do is light-up. The trouble is smoke, cold-air and exercise (all the stairs!) are major triggers for me and, as happened today, they're so keen to get us out I forget to take my inhaler (I always keep them in my bags to have them when going out, but obviously don't have my bag when there's a fire-alarm going off). Often it's left me struggling a bit, but today (perhaps because my asthma's not great at the moment) it caused a pretty bad asthma attack - one of the hall managers noticed and let me sit away from the smoke, but I didn't have my inhaler, and the firemen wouldn't let me or anyone in to get it and they take a while to check the building. Cue hall manager starting to panic, never good when I'm trying to stay calm!!!

I'm okay now, feeling a bit post-attack bleugh (if that's the right technical term!) but wondering what I can do to prevent this happening? Obviously taking my inhaler with me would help, but I need to remember to do this when the alarms are going off and we're being told to evacuate. Also the actual situation causes problems - lots of stairs (and people tend to run and I tend to go quickly so I don't get pushed by others), cold air and particularly the smoke. Any suggestions?

9 Replies

  • Have you thought of having a little bag by your door just for this 'emergency exit' with a scarf and inhaler in? Then you can get into the habit of 'grab and go.' Also, is there another area you could go to that is near to the group but far enough away from the smoke? Maybe discuss it with the halls managers so that you are visible from the group but not in the thick of it.

  • Is there anyway they could let you have a ground floor or first floor room to save you the issue with the stairs. I know this is difficult to do especially mid term, but may be worth asking in case someone drops out or is willing to swap. We had a fire in my first term at uni which damaged the 8th and 9th floor of the halls and trust me if you have asthma you do not want to be going down lots of stairs when it is thick black smoke, where you can barely see where your going... This will cause an asthma attack...

    From my experience I picked up my car keys, inhaler and passport (only because I knew I was going on hols soon). This meant that once out of the building and someone responsible knew I was out I sat in the car with the heater on... then was able to drive home.... I now always leave keys and any essential items nearby where they can be grabbed easily if there is an emergency...

  • Thanks for these suggestions - a small bag on the back of the door (I'm sure I could attach a hook) seems like a really good idea - I'd have to let the hall staff know what it was as they can get a bit stroppy about people bringing out bags - I think they must have had a real fire or something or been in trouble with students not evacuating quickly (or at all) as they can be a bit uptight about the rules - a poor student came out way after the rest of us today and got really told off - poor guy had been in the bath!!

    Any further suggestion about the assembly point - unfortunately I can't get away from the smokers as the area is enclosed by buildings on all sides and we're rather herded into it - even where they had me sit today, the smoke was still pretty strong, as so many students seem to smoke.

  • Oh and though a ground floor room would sound ideal for this situation, they've considered my room carefully in terms of my other issues - I'm in the quietest room (difficult to find in halls) as I use speech recognition technology and various other communication aids, and also my room is next door to the duty manager, so it's easy for me to get help or them to get to me if I need help, especially during the night.

  • When I lived in halls we used to take a fire alarm as a cue to go down the student union bar or the library if it was cold and the bar was closed. It used to take security forever to turn up when the fire alarm went off, once we were left waiting over half an hour in the middle of the night in the snow (so all freezing to death in our PJ's). I know you're meant to wait at the assembly point but we figured it's impossible for the staff to know who was inside the halls at the time of the fire alarm and who was out at lectures, sports clubs or with friends etc. Also impossible to know if anyone had visitors etc so a head count is useless to see if anyone's trapped meaning they'd have to check all the rooms in a real fire anyway. We figured our standing there getting hypothermia wouldn't help regardless of if it was a real fire. It's probably worth mentioning that the fire alarms used to go off regulary at least once a fortnight, but often several times a week as I lived in a large hall of residecnce that was directly linked to another large hall, this meant that if anything happened in either hall, both halls had to be evacuated, also there seemed to be an oddly high number of people who were dingbats in the kitchen.

  • When I lived in halls I became very friendly with the guards on the nights and they knew me well which worked well as I lived on my own most of the time in my flat (art students!) I used to go and sit with them when I was unwell and they would check on me if I knew i wasnt great or they hadnt seen me for a few days. Anyway I was lucky there was a number of blocks so if one blocks fire alarm went off we could go into another blocks common room. Have you thought about leaving an inhaler with security/reception as a spare just in case and yes going somewhere warm is always a good idea not great at 4am though (we raided another halls as they couldnt turn the alarm off!)

  • Thanks so much for all the suggestions. Unfortunately my halls is away from the main campuses, so it is just the hall which means there isn't another building to go into to keep warm / away from the smoke and it's all enclosed by a high perimeter fence (some say it's a little like a prison!!!) so no chance to spread out either.

    I'm going to have a chat with my hall manager later today, but there's some useful suggestions here to put to them.

  • Just to update, I had a chat with the hall manager, and he was great - he's identified a 'safe place' within a building that's within the grounds but not attached to the hall I can go to. We've also agreed that I'll have a med bag on a hook by the door so I can take it but also so the duty staff know where it is if I need help and am struggling to talk/communicate.

    He's also used it as an opportunity to update all staff with regards my needs as they have a few new staff this term, so although it was horrible yesterday, it seems to have had a very positive outcome.

  • It is good to hear you have it sorted!

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