False fire alarms on campus due to overcooked popcorn

With the university starting less than a month ago, the Erie Fire Department has already been dispatched to campus twice. These visits occurred within 36 hours of each other. Luckily, there were no real fires, but nearly 300 students were inconvenienced each time.

Midafternoon on Sunday, Sept. 8, the fire alarm went off on the fourth floor of Warde Hall. The cause: a bag full of burnt microwave popcorn. The entire dorm was evacuated for nearly 30 minutes.

I can attest that the common area still smells of burnt popcorn. The excitement calmed, but not for long. On Monday, Warde found fire alarms ringing once again; this time at 11:30 p.m. This evacuation was a bigger nuisance since some students were already asleep.

What could possibly have triggered the alarms this time? Another bag of burnt microwave popcorn. This time, the smoke came from the third floor.

Warde Hall was now worried that we would all be awakened in the middle of the night on Tuesday for another “fire drill.”

Popcorn is a popular snack among college students. It is a rather healthy snack as long as it is low in fat. It may even help prevent the Freshman 15. While it does pose some health benefits, there are several downsides to microwave popcorn.

Dr. Oz says there are several hidden dangers of microwave popcorn. For example, the smell produced from popcorn is a result of diacetyl, a synthetic chemical that adds the butter flavor to microwave popcorn. It can cause “popcorn lung,” or bronchiolitis obliterans. This is an irreversible condition that causes scarring in lung sacs. PFOA is another chemical found in popcorn, which leads to thyroid issues, high cholesterol and bladder cancer.

Other than health concerns, popcorn prompts a myriad of safety issues, especially in dorms. According to the Topical Fire Report Series, cooking fires account for 77 percent of college fires.
Due to the rise in burnt popcorn, Marist College has banned its students from making popcorn after 2 a.m. and is looking to add more bans. According to their studies, overworked or drunk students making popcorn in the middle of the night cause 87 percent of fire alarms.

At Mercyhurst, students were so upset about the fire alarms that some have said they will not evacuate during the next fire alarm because no one swept the dorms to ensure everyone had left. This is a huge safety hazard because the next alarm could be a real emergency and students would be inside a burning building.

While I believe popcorn is loved by the majority of our students, it has posed some potentially large problems on our campus. Unless we want Mercyhurst to consider imposing a popcorn ban, our students need to monitor their popcorn while it is in the microwave.