Residents of Gray Court have had to deal with constant fire alarm evacuations this year due to an issue with shower steam, according to university personnel. 

The most recent fire alarm went off around 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 15, but residents have encountered excessive alarms as early as pre-orientation week in August, Kayra Isyar, sophomore and Gray Court resident, said. 

“I was doing the pre-O, so no one was here,” she said. “The first week we got here, it was like six fire alarms in a week.”

Isyar's resident assistants explained that the alarms had been triggered by water steam coming from the showers, she said. In some Gray residences, the smoke detectors are located closer to the bathroom than in others, making certain rooms more prone to triggering the alarm, Isyar added. 

Residents became particularly disgruntled over a 26-hour period between Jan. 26 and Jan. 27 when the building's fire alarms went off four separate times. 

Isyar typically waits 20 seconds when an alarm goes off to determine whether the alarm is legitimate, she said. When the first alarm went off early in the morning of Jan. 26, around 2 a.m., Isyar decided to go outside because it lasted longer than 20 seconds, she said.

Isyar was not in Gray for the second and third alarms, but during the final alarm, which occurred sometime around 4 a.m. on Jan. 27, Isyar woke up and initially stayed in her room, she said. 

“I didn’t go out because it was 4 a.m.,” Isyar said. “At some point, I’m just not going out at the fire alarms anymore.”

She decided to leave, however, when she heard University Police Department officers knocking on a hallmate’s door. 

“I thought it was my door, because the walls are thin,” Isyar said. “So I was just like, ‘Oh my God, I did something horrible. It’s my room.’ So I just got up.”

The fire truck took awhile to show up, Isyar said. 

“They were just chilling,” she said. “After the 13th false fire alarm, I wouldn’t take this seriously.”

One of the four alarms was triggered by steam coming from sophomore and Gray resident Vikas Manohara’s shower, he said. 

On this particular weekend, two of the belts that drive the motors of the exhaust fans made to suck hot air out of the bathrooms had snapped, said McKinley Wood, assistant university engineer. 

“It’s sort of like you open the oven in your kitchen, and the smoke goes immediately to the ceiling and you set off the smoke detector,” Wood said.

Wood could not speculate as to why the issue continues to happen in Gray, he said, but that there was no reason to replace the exhaust fan system. 

“You would just put something like it in its place,” he said. “You’ll just have the possible same issues of things breaking down. Anything mechanical or electrical are prone to failure.”

The responding URPD officers told Manohara to try and take shorter showers, Manohara said. Wood recommended that students close the door while showering to decrease the amount of space needed for the exhaust fan to pull the steam out, he said. 

Manohara also had a meeting with his RA to address the issue.

“It’s an inconvenience cause some kids aren’t leaving their rooms, which is a hazard, obviously,” Manohara said. 

If there were a real fire, Isyar said, she would never know.

“I would probably not go out,” Isyar said. “And it’s not my fault. It’s just ridiculous, the amount of fire alarms we had.”

The third alarm, which occurred at 10:32 p.m. on Jan. 26, was considered an arson, according to the URPD crime log.

“I can tell you it was burning of paper,” Beth Simonds, assistant chief of police, said.

Arson is considered a crime in Virginia, Simonds said. As with any other crime committed on campus, URPD will launch an investigation. If the person is found guilty, they can either be criminally charged or put through the university’s disciplinary process, Simonds said. 

According to the university’s housing fire safety policy, arson is considered a category D offense. Students found to be involved in an incident of arson will be immediately evicted from university housing and could face suspension or expulsion from the university, the policy states. 

The arson case ended in a conduct referral, according to the crime log. 

Contact news editor Jocelyn Grzeszczak at jocelyn.grzeszczak@richmond.edu.