In the first six weeks of school, there have been six fire alarms at Berkeley High School (BHS).
“Fire alarm pulls have been happening at Berkeley High ever since I started teaching here, which goes back to 1995,” said Aaron Glimme, an AP chemistry teacher at BHS.
These alarms not only disturb class, but also create problems for those sensitive to loud sounds, even leading to anxiety or panic attacks.
It is also difficult for students with mobility limitations to get to the field during these evacuations. Glimme said, “One of my biggest concerns is that every fire alarm [has] the potential for someone to get hurt. There are some students with mobility issues and during a fire alarm, legally, you are not allowed to use the elevators. Those people are required to use special evacuation chairs and it can be very dangerous.”
In addition to the chaos of over 3,000 students piling into crowded hallways at the same time, real fire danger is also a concern during alarms. Neither students nor teachers can be sure whether there is an actual fire or not, resulting in a lot of confusion. Consequently, in the case of an actual fire, there is a real possibility of bodily harm or even death. “There have been over 100 real fires since 2000, so real fire safety has always been a major concern for me during these pullings,” said Alan Miller, a BHS English teacher. Many of these fires were small dumpster fires, but some ended up burning down rooms. Even an entire building was burned down in 2000, resulting in one million dollars in repairs.
California Penal Code 148.4 makes prank fire alarms against the law. According to Miller, you will be suspended for a minimum of two days, pay a small fine, and be spoken to by the Berkeley fire department.
Almost every student who pulled a fire alarm has been caught due to the large network of cameras that monitor Berkeley High’s fire alarm systems. Matt Albinson, a technology and computer science teacher at BHS, said, “I think that the camera system works great. It takes a picture every few seconds to see whether or not someone is pulling the alarm.” Since it was first implemented in the 1970s, this network has been very effective at catching these pullers. “Taking a picture of the student and knowing their location helps security a lot when trying to find a fire alarm puller because then not only do you know what they look like, but you also know what routes they can take to leave the building,” said Albinson.
Fire safety has long been an issue at Berkeley High. Although security is excellent at catching the students who pull the alarms, the school still isn’t very good at preventing these alarms from happening. Albinson said, “I think we have a good system with fire safety, it is just being abused.”