Out-dated fire alarms may pose threat to deaf students

Morgan Day


Several fire alarms on campus do not have strobe lights that notify the deaf of a fire. Without a strobe light, a deaf student could be unaware of a fire.

Credit: Adam Griffiths

Seventeen fire alarms on campus are not equipped with strobe lights.

This might not be a problem for most students, but it is for the handful of Kent State students who are deaf. The fire alarm’s visual cue could be the deciding factor in whether those students make it out of a building in time – if they even realize there’s a fire.

“All buildings are equipped with wheelchair ramps as far as I know, along with handicapped buttons for doors. Why not strobe lights too?” said Christina Haslage, senior deaf education major, in an e-mail.

Haslage recently encountered a problem concerning the fire alarm system in White Hall. She said she, her interpreter and two classmates stayed after class to speak with the professor. Haslage’s interpreter thought she heard a sound coming from the hall, but after inspecting the hallway, they dismissed the sound as an elevator alarm, which her interpreter said go off frequently in White Hall.

A few minutes later, Fire Safety Coordinator Ed Moisio found the group and asked them to leave the building.

Moisio said White Hall has two fire alarm systems: one that is old and out-dated, and another that is too small to add strobe lights to. It would be financially difficult to update the fire alarm systems in the older buildings, he said.

“You can’t just say, ‘Add stuff to the fire alarm,'” Moisio said. “Well, we can’t.”

David Creamer, vice president of administration, said the fire alarms in the older buildings were up to code when the buildings were built, and replacing the fire alarms would occur if the building needs major repair in the future.

Creamer said until the university has to replace the alarms, it takes other precautions. For instance, there should be a designated staff member who is responsible for telling everyone to leave when the fire alarm is going off to make sure deaf students are not at risk.

Moisio said it’s also the students’ responsibility to know their surroundings.

“We try to provide the safest thing, but you’ve still got to take responsibility for yourself,” he said.

However, Moisio said the concern right now is not about the old systems – it is about why the students are taking these certain classes in buildings that are not up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Haslage agreed.

“If the building isn’t designed to accommodate the deaf, then why have deaf education and interpreting programs there?” Haslage asked. “The university is not setting a good example for faculty and students, much less deaf students, with this incident and their reasoning.”

However, Haslage did not agree with Moisio’s suggestion of moving the deaf students to a building that is up to code with the ADA.

“Many deaf students here at Kent State are in different fields – history, business, education, computer design,” Haslage said. “That would also be unfair to their classmates and professors in terms of scheduling time and place.”

Contact safety reporter Morgan Day at [email protected].