So far, so good.

An effort to eliminate the need for Athens firefighters to respond to burnt food calls at Ohio University seems to be paying off, officials report.

“It’s a relief,” Athens Fire Capt. Bruce Smith said of the decline in calls.

With a goal of reducing calls for fire protection services by at least a third, Ohio University purchased special sensors to deactivate microwave ovens when smoke is detected.

During their first month in use, there have been no fire runs as a result of burnt food in any of the dorm rooms that have the devices.

Joe Adams, OU’s director of environmental health and safety, said the university was approved for a $388,000 grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to purchase Safe-T sensors. When Adams applied for the grant in 2009, he was hoping to receive at least $280,000.

According to Adams, the grant allowed the university to purchase 4,500 sensors. Around 3,700 sensors were installed in dorm rooms on the university’s East and South Greens and in the main campus area over winter break. The remaining sensors will be installed in West Green dormitories over spring break. Adams said when the process is complete, every room where a student may be sleeping will have a sensor affixed to that room’s microwave oven.

The sensor attaches to the back of the microwave magnetically. If the ion chamber on the sensor detects smoke, the sensor automatically shuts off the microwave and restarts it 30 seconds later if no smoke is detected. The sensors are low maintenance and if a sensor is never exposed to smoke, Adams said it should last forever.

Adams said that around a third of the fire alarms that sound at the university are the result of burnt food and smoke from the microwaves. He estimated that each time the Athens Fire Department has to respond to the university, it costs OU around $1,500 in direct and indirect costs. Adams said he hopes that between 30 and 40 fire runs per year will be eliminated with the sensors, saving the university those costs in fire protection services.

“Thus far, we haven’t had any runs because of microwave smoke (in the dorms with the Safe-T sensors),” Adams said. “It’s only been a month, but it’s been a good investment.”

In a previous story, The Messenger reported that Adams estimated it costs more than $2,000 for the city fire department to make a run to campus.

Smith said firefighters are “certainly not upset” about not having to respond to calls for burnt food in the microwaves. He said the fire department still receives those calls from areas on campus that do not have the sensors, but understands those will be installed soon.

Adams said student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, because disappearing are the days when a 2 a.m. burnt popcorn incident would lead to fire alarms and, subsequently, students standing outside of buildings in sometimes unpleasant weather. Adams said not having to worry about students being evacuated into the snow during the winter months is a big benefit.

According to Adams, around nine or 10 of the units have failed, but have quickly been replaced. He said the number of units ordered allows the school to have some extras on hand in case others need to be replaced.

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