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Tired of the fire alarm

Preben Sørelvmo (left) and Robin Jönsson have become used to the frequent fire alarms in Road 232 - 20A in Longyearbyen. They hope the alarm system never fails, because the consequences could be fatal. FOTO: Christopher Engås

Tired of the fire alarm

Robin and Preben have been forced to evacuate their apartments more than 10 times during the past six months due to fire alarms in the building.

Robin Jönsson and Preben Sørelvmo, both carpenters, live in a Longyearbyen apartment with 36 small units. A big fire here is the worst possible scenario for both residents and the fire department. Therefore, it was natural to equip the complex with a direct alarm notification system installed in many buildings during the past year.

But the alarm is triggered so often it's tempting to ignore it, the carpenters suggest.


Full mobilization

During the past weekend it happened again – twice. The first, on Friday night, involved a resident forgetting something on the stove, resulting in enough smoke to trigger the fire alarm. The fire department arrived and the situation was quickly resolved.
Shortly afterwards there was another alarm, this time at 4:20 a.m. Saturday.

"In such situations it is normal that we throw on some clothes and leave the apartments," Sørelvmo said. "That is also stated in the house rules. But it is hard to have to get up."

The second alarm was triggered when an occupant fell asleep while a pizza was in the oven.

"When we came out of the apartments there was a small amount of smoke in the air," Jönsson. "It soon became clear where the fire outbreak was."


A dozen alarms
Sørelvmo and Jönsson have lived in their small apartments four and seven months, respectively. Alarms and the associated nighttime evacuations are becoming a habit.
"I do not know the exact figure, but I estimate that the alarm has gone off a dozen times," Jönsson said. It is not every time that it has resulted in a full emergency response, but the alarm goes off relatively frequently."

Just since the beginning of the year there have been three fire emergencies involving the apartment complex.


Crying wolf
Jönsson and Sørelvmo praised the installed alarm system, even if many people feel that it can be a little too sensitive. It can, for example be triggered by steam from a hot shower. And the when alarm goes off in one apartment, it goes off in all of them.

"But you have alarms so that they will be sensitive and that they should go off," Jönsson said. "Without the system I do not think we had felt that we were as safe."

The two started talking about an alarm last fall, when a charger for a headlamp took to burning in one of the apartments. Then it burned up along the walls before the fire department arrived.

"But when the alarm goes off as often as it does, and we have an effective and quick fire department that is always clearing things up, it becomes a bit like 'wolf, wolf,'" said Sørelvmo, referring to Aesop's fable about the shepherd boy who tricked people by crying that a wolf was on his way to take his sheep. When the wolf really came one day, people thought that he would only fool them again and nobody raced to the aid.

"It can be tempting to just turn around in bed and ignore the alarm when it goes off," Sørelvmo said. "It goes off so often anyway and it always gets sorted out."

"It can be dangerous there," he added.


Unafraid

The two occupants don't deny deny they may be a little annoyed when they have to evacuate their apartments because of a fire alarm. But it's over fast over and they don't feel unsafe.

Are they aware the alarm system is a technical device that can fail?

"Yeah, I've thought about it," Jönsson said. "And that's a little bit of a scary thought. But somehow I can't dwell on it. We just have all be sure that we live so we're as fireproof as possible."

For the two, living safely means avoiding cooking on the stove after they've been out on the town during weekends.

"Then I'm consistently choosing to eat a sandwich," Sørelvmo said. "Dealing with the stove when I'm tired is something I simply avoid."

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The building has 36 small apartments. FOTO: Christopher Engås

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