While most college dorms are subject to a routine annual fire drill, a critical part of the Vassar student experience is having dozens of unannounced drills throughout the year. No matter what dorm you live in, what hour it is or how many times you hope and pray that the blaring sirens and blinking lights will not go off while you are in the shower, the fire alarms of Vassar College have a mind of their own.
Lathrop students are especially familiar with all the jarring sounds and visuals of a fire alarm: persistent screeching, flashing red lights and the sound of doors slamming as half asleep students make their way to the closest stairwell. On the night of April 24, while some students were listening to the “Cupid Shuffle” and enjoying their first Mug Night of the year, the inhabitants of Lathrop were busy shuffling down the stairs to the sounds of fire trucks and chatting students.
That night kicked off a week of incessant fire alarms for frustrated Lathrop residents. On April 30, 10 fire alarms went off in the building over the course of several hours. While the first few lasted for several minutes, subsequent alarms went off in short, sporadic episodes. The students, confused as to what these shorter alarms meant, were unsure whether or not they had to leave the dorm at this time. An email from Lathrop’s House Advisor (HA), Kris Van Nostrand, later clarified that students were expected to evacuate at the sound of any alarm. Although Van Nostrand was not in the house at the time, he sent several emails to students and coordinated with Lathrop’s House Team to explain the situation.
After a handful of false alarms on May 1, the fire detection system in the building was completely shut off and students were told to expect the installment of a new system early that coming week. Additionally, according to Van Nostrand, security personnel were put on fire watch and the fire alarm company was notified of the malfunctioning system.
In true Vassar fashion, an Instagram account was created to memorialize such an occasion for the Lathrop community. Teddy Craig ’23, a resident of Lathrop for the past two years, is the proud owner of @lathrop.fire.alarm. He started the account as a way to draw attention to Lathrop’s faulty fire alarm system in hopes of getting it fixed faster. “There’s a lot of niche Vassar accounts and I figured mine would fit right in,” Craig commented.
Craig created @lathrop.fire.alarm on April 30 (aka Lathrop’s day from Hell), when 10 fire alarms went off within the span of approximately 12 hours. With the fire alarm system disarmed as of May 3, the account may be short-lived. “It’ll probably be active until the end of this semester at the latest,” he noted.
Lathrop’s House Student Advisor (HSA), Natalie Habaybeh ’22, was also frustrated with the situation. “As an HSA, it was really stressful because I had a lot of students coming to me about a problem I couldn’t do anything about,” Habaybeh explained. Since Van Nostrand was not in the building at the time, Habaybeh had a lot of irritated and confused students seeking her out for advice and guidance. “It was kind of just the students dealing with it alone,” Habaybeh noted.
Initially, students had assumed their peers were responsible for constant chaos. “That caused a lot of tension in the house and people ended up writing messages on the whiteboard in the lobby begging people to stop setting off the alarm,” Habaybeh remarked. “To the best of my knowledge as the House Student Advisor, of these recent fire alarms, all of them have been tripped off randomly, which honestly made it even more frustrating because we couldn’t do anything about it.”
The sporadic sirens going off on April 30 also disrupted a number of classes and meetings happening over Zoom, especially for Habaybeh. As one of the many students who had an exam over Zoom on the day of the infamous fire alarm fiasco, she was especially stressed about the unpredictable nature of the alarms. “I had a test after three fire alarms had already gone off, so I sat there worried about it going off again instead of focusing on my test,” she admitted.
Other students, such as Emma Sagerer ’23, have had a more nonchalant, and even positive attitude toward the situation. “As annoying as they [fire alarms] are, the small community that forms outside Lath when we’re rolling our eyes at the latest fire alarm is very warm and welcoming,” she noted of the unique bonding experience every Vassar student has inevitably shared with their floormates at least once this semester.
Other students agreed with this sentiment. “Usually the Lathrop community is tight-knit, but it’s been tough to build that community back in COVID times. So it’s kind of nice to be able to bond over shared frustration and also see everyone every time we evacuate the dorm lol,” Alexander Eisert ’22 [Full disclosure: Eisert is the Sports Editor for The Miscellany News] said in an emailed statement.
While Sagerer could do without the blaring alarms and flashing sirens (courtesy of the Arlington Fire Department) several times a day, the comical nature of the situation is not lost on her. “I’d rather not have it happen 11 times in a day, but the collective dismay is entertaining,” Sagerer explained.
The roars of sirens, coming from the halls of Lathrop and from the quickly approaching Arlington fire trucks, have been routinely filling the quad thanks to Lathrop’s faulty alarm system. “Getting texts from my friends in Jewett while they watch us file out of Lath is a guarantee and it’s a little odd to be the center of attention this semester as the dorm that acts like it’s burning down all the time,” Sagerer admitted.
Luckily none of Sagerer’s classes have been disrupted by the alarms. The only major inconvenience she has faced in this situation has come from living on the top floor. “The most frustrating aspect is going down all the stairs every time and then having to go all the way back up. I have short legs and they’re really not enjoying this whole thing,” Sagerer joked.
Although some students have been more frustrated with Lathrop’s faulty fire alarm system than others, it seems as though Lathrop will stay quiet for the remainder of the semester and prepare to pass on the torch of misfortune to another dorm with an ancient fire alarm system.
While the source for these unpredictable sirens remains uncertain, one thing is clear. There is only one thing Vassar has more of than tulips, something Lathrop students have been made painfully aware of: fire alarms.