Keene State College improves fire safety

Keene State College has already taken a stand to improve fire safety on campus by installing photoelectric smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in some residential halls. 

“At KSC, they are very safe. They have modern alarm systems and they closely follow the safety code and inspection procedures,” Captain of Fire Prevention for the Keene Fire Department, Gary Lamoureux, said.

In February, a fire occurred at St. Michaels College in Colchester, Vt. Vermont WCAX-TV reported there were no fatalities or injuries.  According to an article published on Feb. 17 on the news organization’s website, Vermont fire investigators said smoke detectors using photoelectric technology saved the students’ lives.

Physical Plant Electrician at KSC, Tim Garland, stated that  KSC has 52 fire alarm systems. Garland noted that most of the alarm system is directly wired to the Keene Fire Department. Garland said there are ionization smoke detectors and photoelectric smoke detectors installed on campus facilities. “The preference, now, is towards photoelectric ones. Some states have started to mandate them,” Garland stated.

Residential halls like Huntress Hall, Fiske Hall, Pondside III and Butler Court have photoelectric smoke detectors.

Technology, Design and Safety lecturer at KSC and retired captain of the Keene Fire Department, Jeffrey Morel, explained photoelectric works while a beam that detects when small particles goes past a barrier and activates the alarm along with ionization detectors. As the smoke enters, there is a radioactive piece that gets charged and sets off the alarm. “Photoelectric are more modern, but both systems are pretty secure,” Morel said.

Allie Norman / Equinox Staff: Statistics and information provided in the above graphic can be found on the U.S. Fire Administration website and the official National Fire Protection Association website.

Allie Norman / Equinox Staff:
Statistics and information provided in the above graphic can be found on the U.S. Fire Administration website and the official National Fire Protection Association website.

Garland said the state of New Hampshire has mandated the implementation of monoxide detectors in any building that could produce carbon monoxide. According to Garland, currently there  are carbon monoxide detectors in Carle, Holloway, Fiske, Pondside I, Randall and Monadnock Hall. He stated his department is working to have all residential halls equipped with these detectors by the end of this year.

Morel said these detectors are a significant improvement. “Carbon monoxide is actually a tasteless, colorless, very poisonous gas and it’s anesthetic. It puts you to sleep. You won’t wake up, and you could die. You need that detector,” Morel said.

Garland stated that carbon monoxide was detected in Carle Hall this year, indicating, “It was just a problem with the heater, but we evacuated the entire building.”

Campus Manager of Environmental Health and Safety, Sylvie Rice, said in addition to the detectors, every room in all residential halls on campus have sprinklers.

A fire alarm contractor tests every device over the summer, Garland stated. KSC’s  current contractor is R.B. Allen Co. “They give us a report on how everything is working,” Garland said.

In addition, several inspections are done every summer by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Lamoureux said. Furthermore, Campus Safety Director, Amanda Guthorn, said a committee formed by staff of the Keene Fire Department, the State Fire Marshall, Campus Safety officers and residential life meets on a monthly basis to go over safety procedures on campus.

The Keene Fire Department responds to every call, Garland said, whether it is a real fire emergency or a case of a burnt dinner. “We don’t want to risk anything. Once an alarm goes off, the fire department sends a squad. We send Campus Safety officers to help at the scene as well,” Garland stated.

Residents of Owl’s Nest, like KSC sophomore America Rojas, have indicated that the effectiveness of the alarm systems has become an issue. Rojas said the fire alarms in her residential hall, Owl’s Nest 3, activates when students cook their meals. “Even when we boil water, it causes a lot of steam and the alarms goes off,” Rojas said.

Garland indicated the devices installed on campus are not overly sensitive.  “There is quite a big amount of steam that would come out of a bag of popcorn. The detectors do not activate for no reason,” Garland stated.

Rojas, however, said she believes the stoves in the Owl’s Nest need to be checked, because of the amount of smoke produced. Rojas noted, “It is really annoying.”  However, having a modern fire system does not always guarantee that safety will prevail. KSC’s staff members have expressed that their main concern comes down to educating students about the importance of taking a potential fire situation seriously.

“A wired, modern system is a big plus, but the fire education aspect is also huge. If the alarms go off, there is a need get out immediately — not just here on campus, but wherever you are. I don’t care if it has gone off ten times, getting out could save your life,” Morel stated.

Assistant Director of Residential Life and Housing, Michael Pulju, said some efforts made by Residential Life to create fire safety awareness are to give the residential assistants training and to provide first-year students safety information during orientation. “We do not expect RAs to act on a fire, but they are trained to guide students out and they know where all the emergency exits are located.” Residential assistants communicate this information to the residents during monthly floor meetings, Pulju said.

Campus Safety conducts fire drills in every residential hall at least once a semester, according to Guthorn. During the drills, students are not only tested on how quickly they can exit the building and get to a designated area, but whether they know where the closest emergency exit is located, Guthorn indicated.

Guthorn expressed the importance of taking part in every fire drill and exiting a building whenever an alarm goes off. She said following the procedures makes a difference. “Would you rather call your parents in the morning complaining about how cold it was to stand outside at night, or would you rather me call them to come to the hospital and identify a body?” Guthorn said.

Guthorn said fire drills are put on effectively, even in large residential halls. Currently, Carle Hall houses around 360 students, Randall Hall has 375 and Holloway Hall is home for around 360 students, Associate Director for Facilities and Housing Operations, Jim Carley, said. He stated none of the residential halls on campus “are considered overpopulated.”

Guthorn said, “Students might have a different perception regarding comfort and personal space. Currently, the number of residents living on campus is not up to the point it would be a threat for safety.”

Some residents of these halls said they feel confident about how to act in case of a fire emergency. KSC freshman and Randall Hall resident, Courtney Cullen, said, “They [Campus Safety officers] have told us what to do and where to go. I know that the closest exit I should take from my room is a stairway, not the main entrance of the building.”

Cullen’s roommate KSC Christina Connor said she knows the safe area they should go to, in case of an emergency, is the Fiske parking lot. “Even though we were both in class when the fire drill happened, our RA has told us about it,” Connor said.

Residential Assistant of Monadnock Hall, Emily Reed, said sometimes fire drills can feel like an inconvenience for students, but it is very important that they participate in them.

“I haven’t had problems with my residents taking part of fire drills, sometimes they might not love it, but they know it’s something that needs to be done for their own safety,” Reed said. In fact, Pulju said, “Knowing what to do, where the closest exit is in case of an emergency can really save your life.”  Pulju said, “Even if it’s not a real situation, even if it’s burnt popcorn, you need to get out. We don’t want to take the chance.” Moreover, Guthorn said the college, “Takes it very seriously when we find a student inside the building that just decided not to take part in a fire drill.”

Pulju similarly stated, “It is a serious violation because they are jeopardizing their safety.” Some suggestions school officials gave both on and off-campus students was to not leave their stoves unattended and to be careful when burning candles or incense. Students should create designated outdoor smoking areas in case they host a party, make sure to change the batteries in the smoke detectors and be familiar with all the emergency exits.

Rice said she believes overall, the residential halls and academic buildings on campus are well prepared to face a potential fire situation. For her, a bigger concern is students’ safety once they move out of the KSC campus. “Sometimes students may remove the batteries from the smoke detectors, because they don’t want to get woken up at night by the alarm if someone burns their pizza,” Rice said. For Rice, safety must come before comfort.

Deactivating a fire system is not only dangerous but it is unlawful. Keene Police Department Sergeant, Thaddeus Derendall, stated that if the police find out someone deactivated a smoke detector, they could be fined or even go to jail. “It is a crime to do this. The charges might differ depending on the place and the consequences of the situation,” Derendal said.

Rice and Morel both said students should prioritize safety and act responsibly. They said the college has given them the tools to be ready to face an emergency situation. Morel said, “Fire gives no time,” and can start with a candle, incense or a ripped wire.

However, these KSC officials have assured the college has taken action to reduce the risk of a fire emergency, while minimizing the impact and damages in case one occurs.


Karina Barriga Albring can be contacted at

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