How the Halls Fire Alarm sent me back in time!

A clock surrounded by ripples

Let me tell you a story of how my halls’ fire alarm sent me travelling in time. One that will either make you laugh or question my sanity… or both! And it has to do with the first week — no, first three nights—of living in student accommodation (student halls).

Imagine this scenario:

  • One student – drunk and tired
  • A saucepan of sweetcorn
  • A kitchen
  • Students in bed
  • And an unfamiliar noise of the fire alarm.

That is the situation in my first few nights at halls. Me, fast asleep, wakes up suddenly to urgent sounding “woooooo” of the fire alarm. My eyes rip open and my first thought was…

World War II!

I have no idea what I was dreaming about, but it couldn’t have been pretty. For a minute or two, I had actually believed I had travelled in time to World War II. Only there was no police phone-box camouflaged Tardis or a time turner in sight. A time turner would be useless anyway… imagine the spins!

Time Turner Gif - spinning - aids Hermione & Harry travel in time

Half dream, half reality

The year is 2015 or is it 1944? It is definitely September and it certainly a Sunday. 5 o’clock in the morning.

I am sure I hear a siren indicating an air raid. I’m in world war II.

It was my third night in student halls at the University of Derby when I awoke to a noise that echoed through my bedroom.

The sound of an ‘air-raid’ or at least, that is what sleepy, 5am me, thought it was. I remember thinking:


I have no idea what I was dreaming about before the alarm but I assume something to do with time-travel… I must have watched too much Doctor Who that summer, possibly The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances. 

That would explain why I suddenly thought I was in World War II, or it could have been the book I had recently finished. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. The protagonist lives the second world war, over and over again, changing the moments just before her death.

So at 5am, all I heard was this repetitive noise that I had never heard of in my life, ringing throughout the whole hall. And I believed it was a siren for a WWII air raid…

Yes, I know… there’s no way I could have been in the second World War, but in my defence, it was five in the morning, on a Sunday, in a strange place. I’m not surprised that I was confused and disoriented.

But we do know one thing, this strange noise was certainly not an air raid. What actually happened was obviously something quite different. The Fire Alarm

Realising it was the fire alarm

When I got to my senses, I got out of bed, put my slippers on and had a quick search for my keys in the dark. I gave up and went outside. My flatmate followed alongside me, just as groggily and tired and confused.

Over a hundred students stood in the courtyard. Their heads turned in one direction, to the right… or at least my right anyway. H block. My flatmate and I looked and we saw a big, black cloud of smoke seeping through the first-floor window. A Fire!

Or, that’s what it seemed to be at first. The RAs’—residential assistants–reassured us it was just smoke and had not spread to create a fire. But we all still looked at the blacked-out window with concern.

Cooking Sweetcorn while drunk

What had happened was that one of the students had come back from the first mainstream freshers event (while it was my third night, it was many others’ first night due to not having a disability)  and he was peckish. He decided to attempt to cook sweetcorn and fell asleep in the process.

The smoke was the sweetcorn. No-one was hurt. Although someone had to wake the student up. How the student slept through that alarm, I have no idea! Scary.

Naturally, the crowd departed, trudging back to their rooms and attempted to get back to sleep. I searched for a RA with a key before I went back in for the night/morning. However, sleep didn’t come to me easily.

It was a night of twists, turns, staring at the ceiling, talking to my teddy and still no sleep.

Sleepless week

The idea that it was the first night most of the students had moved into halls and someone already burnt their food, causing a lot of smoke and probably almost a fire prevented me from drifting soundly back to sleep.

When morning came—by which I mean the sun rose—I was still staring at nothing and I was grateful that it was a Sunday morning. If it was the Monday, my first official day at university, I would really have struggled. I drank a lot of tea and tried to sleep the next night.

However, unfortunately for me, the whole week was the same. Restless night after restless night, drifting off here and there and waking up again in what felt like moments later. I caught an hour or two of sleep before waking up and spending another 15-20 minutes to get back to sleep.

So, when Saturday came, almost a week after the fire alarm, I managed to sleep the moment my head hit my pillow. I don’t even remember taking my glasses off! But you know what they say about Murphy’s law?

Sunday. 5am. Exactly one week later. 

I was back in World War II again, only this time I was aware that it was only the fire alarm. This time, I didn’t travel in time in my sleep.

I had my keys ready, prepared, and I went outside—a lesson learned, at least for a short time.

False Fire Alarm

This time there was no fire, no smoke alarm. A fire-glass was broken and the Residental assistants needed to deactivate the broken panel. This took awhile, so while we were all allowed back inside, we couldn’t get to sleep straight away because of the noise. No one admitted to breaking the panel but I am sure those who knew who did it was not happy one bit. Two 5am wakenings for different reasons.

Once the noise stopped, I went to my bed, lay down and slept until my alarm went off. I believe my mind found it easier to sleep knowing this time was not a real fire – or it could be the realisation that the fire-alarms worked. So I managed to get a few hours more sleep.

Family Fun Day

Unfortunately for me, this Sunday wasn’t a relaxing one. It was Family Fun Day. My family would have understood if I told them I needed sleep, but I really wanted to see them.

A day I was looking forward to and now quite tired at the same time. I still enjoyed it though. I got to see my Nan and my dad and I had my face painted into an owl (my nan’s favourite animal, candy floss, a barbeque and a bouncy castle.

Warning to new students

But here’s the lesson to all you new students, you will not be in anyone’s good books if you:

  • Burn sweetcorn at 5am
  • Break a safety glass at 5am
  • Burn the halls down.

All of this will set the fire alarm off, most likely when someone or everyone is asleep. Don’t do that. It’s not good.

And for heaven’s sake, do not cook when drunk! Especially if you have just come back from freshers. No one wants to worry about their processions burning! And no one wants anyone hurt because of carelessness.

All you new students, I hope you enjoy the experience. Do expect some ups and downs, it is hard to get along with strangers after all. But stick to it and you will pull through. And remember, that world war II siren, it’s only the fire alarm—treat it with the same urgency though.

Thanks for Reading

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Categories: Author, Shannon, Student, University

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