You may think vaping in the dorms doesn’t impact anyone, but when the fire alarm goes off, it’s a hassle for everyone.
During the first week of the 2018 Fall Semester, there were over six alarms triggered in Butler Court that required the fire department to be dispatched and the dorm evacuated. After multiple visits, a frustrated firefighter warned students to stop vaping in the dorms.
Mark Howard, Chief of the Keene Fire Department, explained that the firefighter probably saw evidence of vaping and was warning students that if there was a next time, those students could face criminal charges and fines. Covering a smoke detector in a dorm or disabling a fire alarm is a misdemeanor. The fire department can push for the incident to be treated as a felony level offense, as a dormitory is considered a high hazard educational facility which is also a multi-unit apartment building.
“Vaping sets off smoke detectors. This is problematic. Anything that creates smoke or vapor can set off a smoke detector. Not all smoke detectors are created equal, some are more sensitive than others,” stated Kent Drake-Deese, Associate Dean of Student and Director of Residential Life.
“Any time there is a cloud of moisture or dust, it can interfere with the photoelectric sensors of the smoke alarms, causing the alarm to sense smoke and activate,” John Bates, the Fire Prevention Officer for city of Keene, cautioned. He continued, “There are extreme dangers to vapor machines and e-pens. There was a fatality a week ago from an e-cigarette exploding in a person’s face, and there have been numerous fires from e-cigarettes. We have actually had a fire in the city at a restaurant where the battery exploded and shot across the room. We had some minor injuries from that, so they are extremely dangerous.”
Chief Howard remarked that vapes are electrical devices that produce heat and are as much of a fire hazard as a cigarette. Whether it’s a malfunction of the device or that it came in contact with combustibles, they pose fire hazards.
Drake-Deese agreed that vaporizers are not a safer alternative to cigarettes, and pointed out that false alarms are more than an inconvenience. “The rule on vaping in the dorms is more about preventing the logistical difficulties of setting off fire alarms. We are not big on telling people how to live their lives, but when these alarms are set off, it impacts the fire department, the students and resident life department,” Drake-Deese said.
Chief Howard explained, “A response to the college requires the fire department to send no less than one engine with anywhere from three to six people and a shift commander. Each time an engine is dispatched, you are looking a cost of $500-$600. The bigger thing to take home from this is if we are responding to a malicious false alarm, then we are not available for any other emergency. Essentially, we will be delayed getting to a real emergency because someone is vaping or smoking in a building. These vaping alarms are a hassle for the students, it’s a problem for us, and people just need to be aware that it’s not safe to do in buildings.”
Some students are still unaware of the impact of a false alarm and believe vapes present no hazard, as they don’t produce second-hand smoke and there is no direct flame. These students see the only harm done is accidentally setting off a fire alarm. A KSC sophomore that vapes regularly in their dormitory common area said, “Since I’m vaping, I’m only doing damage to myself no one else. I don’t understand why it is such a big deal.” These students seem unaware of the costs and logistics.
Bates offered an alternative to vaping in the dorms. “Students can vape outside. That’s great, but setting off an alarm in the dorm could cause the worst case scenario. That is when someone vapes in their room, sets off the fire alarm, and the truck gets in an accident on the way, and someone is seriously injured or dies from that. Ultimately, the person who set the alarm off is responsible for everything. So if someone sets the alarm off maliciously and something happens, then that person is responsible for manslaughter. There are huge ramifications for breaking rules. All this could be avoided by just going outside to vape,” Bates said.
“You are putting everyone at risk when [you] vape in the room, cover or disable a smoke detector. Why do that when the obvious answer is to go outside? It is hard to believe this is a big deal, but it’s the same thing with marijuana and cigarettes. Just go outside. Students believe in this mythology that they can get away with vaping in their dorms. It just isn’t worth chancing it,” Drake-Deese said.
Austin Cook can be contacted at