Faulty Smoke Detector Forces Students Outside in Freezing Conditions: ‘The Worst Possible Day’


Jiwan R.

On February 3rd, 2023, a faulty smoke detector at Ottoson Middle School (OMS) forced students outside despite freezing conditions. Many students could not grab their jackets. 

At the time the alarm rang, temperatures were at about 19℉ and there were wind gusts of approximately 37 MPH. In these conditions, frostbite can occur within 30 minutes. It was described as the “worst possible day” for a fire alarm to go off by Brian Meringer, the principal of OMS.

Smoke detectors malfunction roughly once a year at OMS. For example, in the spring of 2022, there were two occasions of smoke detectors malfunctioning. This occurs because of dust buildup within the smoke detectors, which eventually causes them to go off. After the detector malfunctioned, it was replaced by the school. According to Mr. Meringer, an overhaul of the fire detection system is performed by the school “every once in a while,” however, how often that is was not specified.

Normally, on days with poor weather conditions, the school will reschedule a fire drill if it is on that day. However, in this case, because it was unclear whether there was an actual fire, the students needed to evacuate.

Mr. Meringer stated that, “It was nice when I was outside, because kids were … sharing clothing and huddling up and trying to keep warm.” He also said that the fire department had a quick response. 

Another smoke detector malfunctioned on March 27th. However, the weather was much warmer, and as such, this incident was not as big of a problem.