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Where there's smoke, there's Steketee

Late night alarms at Tabor are just part of keeping students safe, chief says

News editor

Hillsboro fire chief Ben Steketee couldn’t hold back a chuckle Thursday as he recalled some of the reasons he and his crew have responded to alarms at Tabor College residence halls over the years.

“There was one time one of the male students didn’t know he needed to take the box off a pizza before he put it in the oven,” Steketee said. “One time there was a brownie that was burned beyond recognition.”

It’s not uncommon for Hillsboro firefighters to make runs to Tabor two or three times a month for such things, and there have been occasions when there were multiple alarms on the same night.

“Most of them aren’t false alarms,” Steketee said. “There is smoke. That’s not a false alarm, it’s a sensitive smoke detector.”

Then again, there was that most recent call.

“I think the last one was steam,” he said. “They were running all the showers really hot, doing a sauna or something, and the steam set off the alarms.”

The most sensitive alarms are in the new townhouses, Steketee said, and they were meant to be that way because they have kitchens.

It doesn’t take a cooking disaster to set those alarms off; routine frying has created enough to trigger them, Steketee said.

“One time they were cooking bacon,” he said. “Some people like it crisp, some people like it not so crisp. They were trying to make it crisp.”

Other calls have been made in response to burning candles, and on rare occasions someone has pulled a fire alarn.

“We take those seriously, too. If someone’s having a medical emergency or some other emergency, their only alternative might be to pull a pull station.”

When an alarm is triggered, Hillsboro firefighters respond with a full complement of firefighters and equipment. Even if they believe it to be only smoke, they follow protocol and knock on students’ doors to be sure they’ve evacuated, Steketee said.

Tabor has an excellent record of fire safety, Steketee said, and he has worked closely with college officials and the maintenance department to ensure emergency response plans include all the necessary procedures.

The college conducts fire safety training for resident directors and assistants before students arrive, and part of that training involves the fire department.

“There are some fires you can fight with an extinguisher and win,” Steketee said. “We teach them when the appropriate time is to fight.”

Steketee said the college was also instrumental in squashing an annual prank of couch-burning, after a state fire marshal “scolded” him that he was letting students commit arson.

“I talked to the dean and the college made sure the students understood how serious an issue it was,” he said.

Steketee said he takes the burned food, steam, and candle smoke in stride.

“We’re OK with it,” he said. “We’d much rather respond to something silly than to something dangerous. If it helps students be a little more aware of what they’re doing, that’s great, and I think it does.”

Last modified Sept. 17, 2015

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