Student expresses concern about fire safety on campus

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December 1, 2005

Dear Mills Community,

As I sit here in the Ethel Moore living room, typing this e-mail, the room is filling with smoke. Particles of ash circulate through the air, and enormous amounts of smoke have accumulated at the ceiling. (I later learned that every floor of Ethel had smoke in it.)

Not a single fire alarm has gone off. If this were a real fire, not one in the fireplace, as it is, how large would it have to become for safety officials to be notified?

This oversight and threat to basic public safety is astonishing. There are probably 50 or 60 residents in Ethel whose lives would be in immediate danger due to this lack of basic security measures. How many other fire alarms on campus are also not working? I call upon the proper authorities to address this issue immediately. The beginning of next semester seems a generous deadline by which every single fire alarm on campus should be inspected, tested and in working condition. Perhaps we should also invite the Oakland Fire Department to do a campus-wide inspection and submit a written evaluation of their findings.

In light of President Holmgren’s recent reminder that people not smoke near buildings, we must pay equal attention to preventive measures, such as functional smoke alarms that might just as easily draw citations from the fire marshal.

I highlight this issue in part because it is representative of a larger matter. We need a systematic, fundamental change in the way communication occurs and authority is delegated at Mills College, not temporary half-measures. Ideally, an institution is governed by consent of its members. In the real world this isn’t possible, obviously, but I am aware of a pervasive sentiment on campus that students are not feeling heard or perhaps even respected. As one of the nation’s leading women’s colleges, we can do much better. We must. It is required of us to demand excellence of ourselves, each other, our instructors, all staff, trustees, officers and anyone else remotely tied with our school.

Update: Today, Monday, I notified Oakland Fire Department of the fire alarm matter. I am awaiting a reply, and when/if I receive one, I will share it with the Mills community via student-news. I also tried to send the same email to the faculty and staff e-mail lists, but the message was blocked. Incidentally, I did not notice any testing of fire alarms today in my classrooms, Founders, Ethel Moore, Mary Morse or the Tea Shop.

Warmly (no pun intended), and in solidarity,

Diana Galbraith


Student expresses concern about fire safety on campus was published on December 1, 2005 in Letters to the Editor

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