Howard University students are rasing questions about the effectiveness of fire alarm systems in the newly renovated Howard Plaza Towers West dormitory hall after two fire-related incidents this week.
In one of the incidents, a blind student, was not alerted by the alarms and was only aware of an incident after students and security guards came to his room.
]“I didn’t know what was happening,” Ibrahim Onaseko, a senior audio production major, told Howard University News Service. “I wasn’t really scared, but I was busy.” He also said that initially, he heard a bang on his front door, but when he opened it, no one was there, prompting him to return to his room. “It was actually my colleagues who reached out about the fire, but security got me outside.”
The first fire took place on August 27 on the third floor, while the second incident happened the following night on an unknown floor.
The fires were contained by the building’s sprinkler system and the District of Columbia Fire Department (DCFD) and the Department of Public Safety, who were notified via alarm system, according to recent statements from President Wayne A.I. Frederick and the Howard University Office of Student Affairs.
Various students, however, had complaints that certain aspects of the building were not updated or did not function properly.
Aliyah Godwin, a junior Chemical Engineering major told Howard University News Service that the alarms did not work as expected.
“We were displaced unexpectedly for so long, because the alarms didn’t go off when they were supposed to — but they were going off for no reason prior to the actual emergency,” she said.
Brittany Parker, a senior Psychology major, expressed the same sentiment, adding she was inconvenienced.
“We told a representative from Corvias, but I don’t think that he knew what was going on either,” she said. “It was just inconvenient because I was doing my homework and we were evacuated for about four hours.”
The Towers West building was renovated by Gilbane, a company headquartered in Rhode Island, this summer.
A representative from Corvias, the company that manages the building, told Howard University News Service that the fire suppression system is monitored twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and were tested prior to and following the fires. However, Corvias did confirm that the alarm sounders were not functioning properly during the first incident, but said that it went back to its correct functioning order following that event.
“We take safety very seriously across all of our residence halls and are well equipped to maintain it throughout,” the company said.
Corvias assured that the Towers West staff and many University officials, including President Frederick were onsite during the incident.
“Prior to residents moving into the Towers, our RAs underwent extensive training so that they are prepared to respond to incidents effectively,” the company said. “Fortunately, our well trained staff, including RAs, together with a complex fire suppression system, responded and was able to minimize the damage from the fire.”
No one was injured in either fire and the Howard University administration responded with updates and fire safety tips.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Corvias renovated the building. That was incorrect, the dorm was renovated by Gilbane