Fire doors are more trouble than they are worth. Sure, I believe in fire safety and prevention — who doesn’t? But I also believe that sectioning off suites destroys the community that residential colleges are trying to foster.
Open fire doors allow much easier access to all points in a dorm. Students traveling to see friends in other suites meet new friends along the way. Many friendships are formed this way on Old Campus. Why should the process end after freshman year? Better yet, why keep the fire doors closed in the first place?
As far as I can tell, fire doors are alarmed because, when properly closed, they deter the advance of a fire for a few hours. A noble cause — nobody likes the spread of vicious fires, nobody except the Huns.
Fire doors also provide an alternative escape route out of buildings. If confronted with an inferno, safety could lie just beyond the fire door, assuming your neighbors haven’t packed it in with tennis equipment.
But, most importantly, not only do alarms discourage the natural human inclination to open doors, thus leaving suites vulnerable to the above-mentioned problems, but they can also alert qualified personnel to any disaster signaled by an open door.
I can understand why fire doors are a good idea. And I have no problem with the doors themselves. I just want to be able to walk through them.
The easy remedy: Set the alarms to allow a door to remain open for 10 to 15 seconds. With timed alarms, students are able to roam through their college while the administration can rest assured that the doors will remain un-propped. So when someone’s deep-fat fryer spills and an Ikea futon turns into a burning trough of death, firefighters will still have the extra hours to work afforded by the fire door.
Opening the doors to use would encourage suites to keep them clutter-less. As anyone who has escaped a burning plane crash knows, it can be bothersome to heave suitcases and other heavy valuables out of the way of the only exit.
As far as theft is concerned, let’s be real. Few suites, if any, keep the hallway door locked. Most prop it open and leave their rooms vulnerable all day. Why would suites care more about locking the fire door? But if those juniors on the other side still frighten, remember that they are Yale students. A gaggle of guidance counselors, two high school teachers, several admissions officers and a dartboard can all vouch for their character. And even if this fails to assuage fears, understand that the real problem stems from unlocked bedroom doors within suites. But don’t get me started on that issue.
When it comes to fire door alarms themselves, I don’t have any problem with them either. Although the sound is loud, grating, unholy — tantamount to a human dog whistle — I believe these are the signs of a well-built alarm: in a word, intolerable. But what troubles me is the lax attention paid to them by students and security alike.
When was the last time a door alarm went off and, in a frantic scrabble to get outside, you grabbed your Quiz Bowl trophies, hoping the firefighters would arrive in time to save your posters? On your way down, how many security officers ran up the stairs, ready to nab a criminal or report a fire?
Imagine, if you will, it’s 8:30 in the morning one Monday in January. You live in Jonathan Edwards. You are a sophomore in a sextet. Here’s how this event may play out:
The alarm would sound and you would put your pillow over your head. A suitemate rooming close to the fire door would enter your double, declare, “It’s too loud,” and then plop down on your roommate’s empty bed. Security wouldn’t come until you called, and even then it would take 43 minutes, three trips by three separate officers (two without the “proper” keys, and one with), until you could get the door looked at. “Seems like someone opened it,” that third officer might say. Hypothetically, you might want to strangle necks at this moment.
Especially when you found out that a police officer had tripped the alarm while doing door checks.
When no one is taking these doors too seriously, and they could be set with alarm timers, allowing access from suite to suite, then why not go for it? As unsexy as it sounds, fire safety is important, but so is the sense of community that open-door housing fosters, and I hate to feel like we’ve locked ourselves out of the possibility of having both.
Jason Richey is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.