This past Saturday night and Sunday morning, Reed House residents were raised from their beds by two fire alarms in quick succession.  Facilities Management and the Brunswick Fire Department investigated the cause of these false alarms, and fixed the problem on Wednesday. 

The fire alarm has gone off in Reed House over ten times during the course of the semester.

A single detector in the basement of Reed House was responsible for last weekend’s false alarms.

The alarms have tended to go off between “11 p.m. and 4 a.m., so the house has had a few rude awakenings in the middle of the night,” said Emily Tucker ’15, vice president of Reed House. 

The Fire Department had dubbed the false alarms a “ghost problem,” but this past weekend, discovered that steam emitted from the boiler had activated the alarm. 

“We had a replacement boiler put in and it wasn’t calibrated correctly,” said Director of Facilities Operations and Maintenance Ted Stam.

As a result, the boiler was producing excess steam that could not be ventilated.

“Steam can sometimes set off smoke detectors. For fire prevention purposes, there is a smoke detector in the furnace room and it was being set off,” said Stam.

Stam said this is relatively common, especially in bathrooms where large amounts of steam are produced.

After the second alarm went off, officers from the Office of Safety and Security and the fire department searched the Reed House basement. 

A fire department officer recognized that the fire system extended beyond a locked door under the stairs. The building was formerly the Chi Psi fraternity lodge, and the locked door opens into the fraternity’s dungeon-like chapter room, which is kept off limits. It was into this locked space that the fire system extended.

A Security officer retrieved a key and opened the locked door. 

“The second room in, they found the detector that was activated and there was four feet of steam hanging from the ceiling. Well, there’s your cause,” said Brunswick Fire Chief Ken Brillant.

Stam said he did not know about the location or access to the room.

The problem was particularly difficult to diagnose because the boiler is not constantly running. During the second alarm, however, the boiler was on. 

“[Security] turned it over to maintenance and we haven’t been back since,” said Brillant.

The solution was relatively straightforward. The furnace has been adjusted, and excess steam is now released outside the building.

“It shouldn’t happen again,” Stam said.

Brillant praised Bowdoin’s Facilities Management for actively trying to root out the problem. 

“Bowdoin College has done an extremely proactive job of updating their systems and maintaining their systems,” he said. “These things happen. We get calls at the time and they just happen. I’m just glad we found the problem.”