Fire alarms raise questions, concerns Valle Verde students unsure when to re-enter building without "all clear" signal

April 11, 2017

Over the course of the spring semester, several fire alarms have gone off at the Valle Verde campus in building A. 

 

 

Students exiting the A building at the Valle Verde campus during a fire alarm.

 


The problem with these fire alarms is that when they go off people are unaware of when is it safe to go back into the building. 


Approximately, four times the alarms have gone off this semester.

 

When the alarms go off, people go outside of the building and after the alarm stops people go back inside. 


In January, a staff member contacted the Police Department and each time the alarms went off to make sure it was safe to go back to the building, only to find out that they hadn’t clear the situation, even though people were already inside of the building. 


According to the El Paso Community College Safety manual, when a fire alarm sounds students, faculty and staff are to exit the building immediately. 


 “I don’t know if the Police Department knows about it or not, I haven’t had a chance to follow up,” President William Serrata said. 


When asked about what could be done to let people around campus know that it’s safe to go back to the building, Serrata said, “The Tejano Alert is the best way, now you have to update and choose to be a part of it, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to give students up to date information on any kind of emergency, any kind of facility shut down," Serrata said.


"It also gives you all clear when the buildings are clear. And I know because I get the alert on my email as well as phone calls, voice messages.”


EPCC Police Chief, Jose L. Ramirez, could not be reached for comment on this matter though several voice messages were left by Tejano Tribune.


Some students have complained about not receiving the Tejano Alert related to the fire alarms. 


The only way to determine if it’s safe to go back inside is by calling the Police Department. 


During Serrata’s Town Hall Meeting, on Monday at the Cafeteria Annex at Valle Verde, the subject of the Tejano Alert came up and he said that if students weren’t getting the alerts it was because they weren’t signed up for it.

 

He also said that the system needs some work done.


“We need to tweak parts of it,” Serrata said.

 

“We need to look and make sure that those glitches are taken care of, but that is the best way, that would be my recommendation for students, faculty and staff - the Tejano Alert.”


The Tejano Alert has been helpful in other cases that have happened around different EPCC campuses, he added. 


Another aspect that people are unaware of is what’s causing the fire alarms to go off as frequently as they have this semester. Serrata said he was not sure what could be causing this. 


“I don’t know, I mean, so we’ve had alarms sometimes it could be testing, but I don’t know,” Serrata said.

 
People have mentioned that it’s caused because of the smoke that originates from the construction of the new building, others say that it’s because the people in charge of the fire alarms are testing them. 


Either way, it is unclear why are they happening.

 

It also unclear when it’s safe to go back inside when they do go off. 


It’s still unclear how this can be solved, but Serrata did say that there are people that can solve it. 


“It may be a glitch that we need to take care of, it’s a combination of IT and Chief Ramirez’ area and they’ve worked together, as well as Rick Lobato,” Serrata said. 


Serrata then went on to explain how the Tejano Alert has improved over the last years. 


“I know it’s a new system, I know that we’ve implemented. I’ve seen it already, much more positive than the older system that we had, so I would recommend that we look at it.”


According to the El Paso Community College Safety Manual in the event of a fire alarm the following procedure faculty, staff and students need to: 


Shut down any experiments, procedures, etc. that should not be left unattended. 


Begin moving toward the nearest fire exit.

 

Close, but don’t lock, offices and classrooms doors behind you to retard the spread of smoke and flames. 


If applicable, close all windows. Take only important personal items with you, purse, keys, jackets, backpacks, medications, etc. 


Shut off ventilation fan switches if possible. 


Alert all persons in your area as you leave. Help those needing assistance. 


Walk at brisk pace (don’t run) to the fire exit. Assist others. Do not push or crowd. 


Keep noise to a minimum to be able to hear emergency instructions. 


Feel all doors before opening. If the door is hot, don’t open it.

 

Go to another exit. 


When opening a door, brace yourself behind the door, open it slowly and be prepared to close the door quickly if thick smoke or heat is on the other side.


 If you open the door and the corridor or stairwell is filled with thick smoke, go to another exit. 


If the hall between you and the fire exit is filled with smoke, crawl like a baby along the floor to the exit.

 

Smoke rises in a hall or room, so cleaner air is found near the floor.  

 

Proceed down the stairs or corridor and out of the building staying to the right to enable emergency personnel to pass.

 

Move to a safe area or designated assembly point that is at least 300 feet away from the building.

 

Keep existing groups together. Instructors should check to ensure all class members have reached the safe area.


Class members can be of service in this head count.

 

Missing persons should be reported immediately to the EPCC PD or the Fire Department.

 

No rescue efforts should be carried out by the group, unless they have been trained in emergency rescue.

 

The group should stay together while awaiting further instructions. 


If you are unable to evacuate, because the stairwells are filled with smoke or are burning, go to a distant office or room that has a window.

 

Close the door and stuff cloth or paper (preferably wet) tightly into the cracks around the door to keep the smoke out. 


Open the window and hang out some visible object (white shirt, slip, etc.) and close the window down on it.

 

Raise or open any shades or drapes.

 

This will signal firemen that someone is in the room. 


Re-enter the building only when told to do so by EPCC PD or fire personnel. 

 

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