Pulling fire alarm serious offense, not funny prank

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    About a week ago, I did something college students never do: I got up early. Not just a few minutes early, or even an hour early, but almost 2 1/2 hours early.But this wasn’t by choice, and it wasn’t because I’d gotten to sleep early the night before.

    No, I got a rather rude awakening before 7 a.m. that Thursday morning when the fire alarm in my building in the Tom Brown-Pete Wright Residential Community went off. So I woke up, took a few seconds to figure out precisely what was going on, grabbed my keys, ID card and cell phone, and stumbled out of my apartment to join the other 90-something residents of Mullins (my building) and Fish (the building connected to mine) halls.

    Naturally, the first thing I thought was that this was one of TCU’s trademark annoying fire drills. Indeed, anyone who has ever lived on campus probably remembers at least one such exercise of the safety code that came at an inopportune time. I simply thought that the university had decided that this year it would be good to force students to get an early start on their day.

    So the original thrust of this column was going to be about fire drills (perhaps still a topic for another day), but then I found out from a friend earlier this week that it wasn’t a drill at all, but rather a simple false alarm. In other words, someone intentionally set off the alarm without there being a fire or any sort of legitimate emergency.

    That’s right, nearly 100 students at TCU lost sleep – for me, it was more than two hours of sleep that I could have used that day – to some idiot’s prank.

    The TCU Student Handbook, provided by Student Affairs, states that “every attempt will be made to identify the individual(s) who cause a false alarm.” While TCU Police have not yet pinpointed an offender – and very well may never find one – when and if they do identify a suspect, that individual could face some pretty serious punishment.

    According to the handbook, punishment can include “suspension from the university even for a first offense,” and a $400 fine.

    What’s more, if the offender is not found within 10 class days (or two weeks from the incident), that fine will be charged to every student living in that particular residence hall, meaning at least a $5 charge to each resident. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I don’t think having to pay $5 to get up a couple hours earlier than I had planned – thus making me tired and generally disagreeable all day – is in any way funny.

    Also, anyone who tampers with a fire alarm – or any other fire safety equipment – is subject to criminal prosecution, according to the handbook. The Fort Worth Fire Code lists sounding a false alarm as a misdemeanor, and states that, if convicted, offenders can face further fines.

    Pranks are sometimes harmless. The night before the TCU football team’s loss to SMU, a large number of cars parked in the Quad Lot in front of the Student Center were vandalized in a rather minor way. The phrase “I (heart) SMU” was painted on their windows. Although the fact that the incident occurred unnoticed by TCU Police officers on duty raises an issue of safety on campus, no major harm was ultimately done. A car wash – or two, depending on how long vehicle owners waited – and all was well again. I got hit, I washed my car, it came off and I laughed at it because no harm was done.

    Perhaps no real harm was done here. But pulling a false alarm is like crying wolf: Eventually people aren’t going to take the real fire alarms seriously. And on some level they might lose something important to them that they otherwise could have saved. Sure, the alarm is loud and obnoxious enough to more than likely wake people up and get them outside – if only to get away from the cacophony – so in the event of an actual emergency their lives would be saved. But if students do take a legitimate fire alarm seriously – which would be understandable after several false alarms – they might fail to grab things that are very important to them that they might take with them if they had not had to deal with so many false alarms.

    I accept that the culprit who gave me my rude awakening on that Thursday morning will probably never be caught, and that I will have to pay $5 for the privilege of getting out of bed more than two hours early. But I hope that in reading this, someone learns that pulling a fire alarm just for kicks can and does affect people. It just takes one fool pulling a prank to mess someone else’s entire day up.

    Associate Editor Jarod Daily is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Keller.