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Upgrading the fire alarm system at my old middle school brings back a lot of memories…

September 10, 2005, 9:02 PM

I found out on Friday that Stuarts Draft Middle School is getting a new fire alarm system, to replace the charming vintage-but-terribly-obsolete Edwards system installed when the building was constructed. As I’ve not been over there lately, I can’t tell you whether the update is in the process of completion or if it’s done, though my guess is that it’s done. I also don’t know who makes the new system or what model, nor do I know what kind of horns and pull-stations were used.

I found out when Mom brought a Food Lion bag home from school containing, to my surprise, two Edwards 270-SPO pull-stations (“Local Alarm”), two Cerberus Pyrotronics MS-151 pull-stations (from the 1993 addition), and an Edwards Edwards 881D horn. I believe that one of the Edwards pulls came from the gym next to the boys’ locker room, as it has a sticker with a zig-zag line under the “E” logo that I recalled on that spot. I don’t know where in the school the horn came from, or where the other pulls came from.

Altogether, before this alarm update, SDMS had 24 horns, of which 20 were the Edwards 881D (all were originally the Edwards 881D). Two horns were replaced before I started there with large square horns – one in the cafeteria and one outside Room 38 (a stone’s throw away from the other replaced horn). I won’t swear to it, but I think those horns said “Pyrotronics” on them in small white letters. Then two horns were replaced in 1993 with Wheelock 34T horns. One was outside Room 12, and the other was outside Room 22. I remember seeing workers replacing the horn outside Room 12 from a distance, and noticed the Wheelock 34T outside Room 22, which was near the sixth-grade lockers (which were later relocated), as being new when it was replaced during third or fourth period.

I remember when the original Edwards horn outside of Room 22 died. The last time it went off was October 1, 1992 for a fire drill. I remember that drill well because Mrs. Kidd (principal at the time) commented on the PA afterwards that our evacuation time was 62 seconds, and that student behavior outside was not of the quality she expected. She held a fifth fire drill, beyond the one-per-week for the first twenty days that was required by law, a little less than a week later on October 7, presumably to see if behavior improved. The horn outside Room 22 didn’t sound for that drill. We heard the horn down the hall that was next to Room 21. Mrs. Kidd commented on the PA after that drill that our time was 60 seconds, and that behavior was much better this time, and that the next drill would not be until November.

In addition, SDMS had thirty pull-stations, with 25 Edwards pulls (there was one “orphaned” pull in the gym – all the rest had a horn above them), and five Cerberus Pyrotronics pulls from the 1993 addition.

Still, the whole upgrading of the alarm system reminds me of so many fire drills (28 by my best recollection), plus one malfunction and one system test. I remember so many announcements, too.

“We will be having the first fire drill of the year today at 9:30.”
“I’d like to congratulate everyone on how quickly you evacuated the building during the first fire drill of the year. The building was evacuated in 45 seconds.”
“We are about to have the second fire drill of the year.”
“The building was evacuated in 62 seconds.”
“The building was evacuated in 60 seconds.”
“The next fire drill is scheduled to happen in November.”
“Your evacuation time was 47 seconds.”
“Our maintenance staff is working on the fire alarm system. If you hear the fire alarm, please disregard it.”
“We are about to have a fire drill using the new evacuation plan of the building.”
(a modified evacuation plan was put into effect while the 1993 addition was being constructed)
“We are about to have a fire drill for the month of May.”
“We are about to have a fire drill…”
“We will be using the exits prior to construction.”
(meaning we would be following the regular evacuation plan, and not the modified plan)
“The building was evacuated in about a minute, which is good for a school this size.”
“We will be having a fire drill today at 9:30…”
“We are about to have a fire drill…”
“We are having problems with the fire alarm system. Something is causing it to go off for no reason. Please do not evacuate unless an announcement precedes the alarm.”
“This is a test of the alarm system. Please ignore the alarm.”
(After an early-morning malfunction caused the alarm to sound) “Please ignore the alarm.”
“We are about to have a fire drill…”

I also remember seeing the panel open on the aforementioned day that they were working on the system when I was in sixth grade. I also remember two other occasions where the panel was open and taken apart for service when I was in eighth grade. After one of those servicings, a green light was lit. I remember talking with Mr. Harold, our assistant principal, about the servicing where the green light was on afterwards, and found out that the work was to correct a problem causing the pull-stations to not function correctly, and that the problem didn’t affect the operation of the alarm for the fire drill we’d had the Thursday before.

I remember what Mrs. Scott (my sixth-grade science teacher) said when the alarm went off for the first fire drill of the year: “There it is.” That’s also when I first got acquainted with the rattly sound that those Edwards 881D horns make.

I remember the way my sixth-grade teachers would always call the roll once we got outside, to make sure everyone was accounted for – especially the way Mrs. Miller, my sixth-grade Language Arts teacher, would call it, with last names only: Arbogast? Ballew? Dove? Green? Greenmun? Hess? Miller? Pringle? Shoemaker? Schumin? Williams? I always knew when my name was coming up, and was ready to say “Here!” when it was called.

I remember covering my ears as we walked right under a horn, and seeing a few teachers cover their ears, too.

It’s really amazing how many memories are tied up in that fire alarm system. So many emotions were stirred up by that fire alarm system during my three years at SDMS. When I think of that alarm system, I think of my getting used to a new school with a whole new group of kids, and my amazement at the fact that we’d had a fire drill every blasted week so far! In fact, it reminds me quite well of those days back in the early-to-mid-1990s, when we were still relatively new in Virginia, and still getting the hang of things. And a fire drill every week during the first month and some that we lived there. It really made that alarm system a special part of my life at that time.

I’m really touched that the people at SDMS thought of me when they got the parts from the old system loose, and got me a few things from the old system to remember it by.

Fire alarms removed from Stuarts Draft Middle School

Web site: Pasadena Fire Department's page about fire drills

Song: The sound of the fire alarm in middle school...

Quote: Quoting the 1992 SDMS handbook section entitled "Emergency Procedure":
"Fire and safety regulations require that we conduct emergency evacuation drills regularly to ensure the quick and safe exiting of the building. During the first month of school, we will 'announce' the drill on the intercom right before the drills are conducted. The following months, we will have a 'surprise' drill once per month to ensure each student knows how to evacuate the building quickly and silently. It is important for each student to take the drills seriously and cooperate fully with the teacher."