Campus Question: What set off the fire alarms during AP testing?


ZaZu Lippert

Students wait outside the A building after the alarm sounds. Photo by Aanchal Garg.

Additional reporting by Chetana Ramaiyer.

At approximately 8:00 AM on May 1, the fire alarms went off across campus. Students in the E building heard the bells from a distance and began to get out of their seats, anticipating the walk to the grass in front of the bus circle.

Rumors on campus circulated that perhaps an alarm was pulled by a student who did not want to take their AP test, but the actual cause turned out to be an innocent accident.

Administration confirmed that a student accidentally dropped a dumbbell onto their phone during weight training in first period, and it began to smoke upon impact. The tendrils of smoke reached the detectors on the ceiling and set off the alarm. Within minutes, the Santa Clara County Fire Department had pulled up their fire trucks to the front of the school, one with its sirens blaring. The sheriff arrived as well as everyone tried to figure out the cause of the alarm.

Amidst the commotion, students taking the AP Chemistry and AP Environmental Science tests in the Field House and the gym quietly filed out, worried about score cancellation and what would happen next.

When the alarm started blaring during the AP Chemistry test in the Field House, junior Emily Zhang was surprised when everyone began clapping.

The proctors told them to sit and wait for a while, so they sat at their tables until they were told to evacuate.


A smoke detector in a room in the D building like the one that set off the alarm. Photo by ZaZu Lippert.

As they filed out of the Field House, students from the test began mumbling about the alarm. Luckily, they hadn’t started the test, so their scores weren’t at risk of being cancelled, but superstition ran high.

Everyone was like ‘This is a sign that we shouldn’t take this test,’” Zhang said.

In the gym, junior Madi Anderson had just gotten her AP test packet, the clear wrap still on, when the alarm began. At first, everyone was uncertain of what to do.

“Everyone was really confused, and no one moved, which is kind of a bad response to [a]  fire alarm,” Anderson said. “I think everyone was like ‘If this is gonna keep us from taking our AP test, then I’d rather die in the fire.'”

The proctor told everyone to evacuate due to the alarm and everyone in the testing room slowly made their way over to the student parking lot. Once there, many used the time for extra review before starting the test as they waited for the Fire Department to arrive and for the cause behind the alarm to be identified.

Once people started returning to their classrooms around the campus, they returned to the gym, sat down and started the test.

A fire alarm by the cafeteria, which went off along with all others as soon as the smoke from the phone hit the detector. Photo by ZaZu Lippert.

However, the delay did mean that many people who were taking the AP Psychology test after AP Chemistry and AP Environmental Science later in the afternoon at Lynbrook High School were unable to make it due to the fact their test finished late. Some people tried to rush there, but for many, the exam had already started by the time they finished.

“I saw one guy zooming out, I think he was gonna try and make it,” Anderson said. “[Someone came in and] said they sent an email to the Lynbrook proctors explaining the situation.”

Junior Esther Chang, who was with Anderson taking the test, says that everyone remained pretty calm since they hadn’t started the exam yet, but were irritated because of the time delay.

“The initial reaction was “Oh, we’re gonna be here forever!”‘ Chang said.

Junior Manav Shah, who was planning on taking the AP Psychology test after taking AP Chemistry, was unable to make it to his second test in time due to the false alarm. At first, he was hoping it wouldn’t interfere, but as soon as he walked outside he knew otherwise.

The phone after having the dumbbell dropped on it. Photo by Itay Rabinovich via Snapchat.

“Once I saw the fire trucks especially,” Shah said, “I was like ‘Okay, this is not just like one where we go back in five minutes.'”

While he was disappointed that he didn’t get the chance to take both on the same day, because he felt like he was prepared to do so, he felt that the administration dealt with the whole situation really well. He was able to go to them after school and get more information to make sure that he was signed up for the later test date, which helped ease the confusion of the situation.

While many missed their AP Psychology exams due to the delay, luckily, no scores were cancelled. However, the phone in question that suffered the fall of the dumbbell remains severely damaged.