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University investigating multiple ‘malicious fire alarm pulls’ over Homecoming

Numerous students gather on the sidewalk after evacuating Watts Hall student residence building on the night of Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020 after a fire alarm was pulled in the building maliciously. Photo by Logan Cadue.

While Kingston Police reported a relatively quiet Homecoming weekend, it was less than quiet for those students living in Queen’s residence buildings where fire alarms were pulled at multiple locations on the night of Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020.

Kingston Fire and Rescue reported to seven fire alarm calls at residence buildings over the course of the night, beginning at approximately 11 p.m., and continuing until approximately 3:45 a.m. the following day. On the streets, hundreds of students gathered after evacuating the buildings on each instance – the correct response to fire alarms, but an unnecessary need for students to gather during the pandemic, given that no active fires were detected.

“Kingston Fire & Rescue (KFR) responded to multiple fire alarm activations on the Queen’s University Campus over the weekend. KFR has been in contact with the University and offered supports to mitigate future alarm activations,” said Julielee Stitt, a Communications Officer for Kingston Fire and Rescue. “KFR has been informed the University is currently reviewing these incidents.”

Queen’s University confirmed these false alarm activations occurred, and expanded on possible recourse.

“There were a number of malicious fire alarm pulls over the weekend in some residence buildings, and the University is investigating. When malicious fire alarms occur in residence, we make every effort to determine those responsible,” said Kate Murray, Director of Residence Life for Queen’s University. “Tampering with fire equipment or pulling an alarm as a prank are considered Level 3 offences (the highest level) within the residence conduct system, and as such can also be investigated as violations of the University’s Student Code of Conduct.”

Murray continued to say that the Residence Society installed tamper dye on hundreds of fire alarm pull stations across residence buildings in 2019.

“In Residence Life, we employ a variety of strategies to educate and inform students about the importance of the life safety equipment in residence. Expectations related to life safety equipment are outlined in the Residence Community Standards, discussed in building meetings during Orientation Week, and during our annual Fire Safety Week in October,” she said.

It is that education component that is essential, KFR explained.

“Education is a huge piece of the puzzle! What KFR has done in the past, and will continue to do, is provide resources to property owners of multi-residential unit buildings, businesses, care and treatment facilities, and institutional buildings to name a few,” Stitt said, noting that those groups have direct lines of communication with their tenants, employees, etc., which can be leveraged in order to ensure everyone is informed about the consequences of their actions.

“In spite of these best efforts, we may still see individuals who are tempted to act out. Every time an alarm is activated, crews are dispatched. They assume they are responding to an emergency, until they arrive on scene where it may be proven otherwise,” she expressed.

“In these situations, we rely on our community to step up. For peers to educate peers. Fire alarm systems aren’t toys. They’re life saving devices that provide early notification to building occupants in the event of a fire, and should be treated as such. In some cases where there is sufficient evidence, police may be called to pursue further enforcement measures.”

Kingston Police reported on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020 that they’d experienced a decrease in crowds and unsanctioned parties during Homecoming this year. This came after police, the City of Kingston, Queen’s University, and KFL&A Public Health urged students to refrain from gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nonetheless, Kingston Police and City of Kingston Bylaw Enforcement laid 47 charges over the weekend, including:

  • Seven Reopening Ontario Act notices for gatherings above the Provincial limits, for $880 each as a result of several unsanctioned gatherings in the University District,
  • Seventeen Liquor Licence Act fines issued for having open alcohol,
  • Five Administrative Monetary Penalties for bylaw offence notices were issued, including one for obstruct, three for amplification of sound, and one for hosting a nuisance party, and
  • City Bylaw Enforcement Officers also issued 18 AMPs over the weekend for yelling and amplified noise
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