A false alarm fire scare that sent hundreds of people scurrying for the hotel doors at the Hoover election forum Tuesday night apparently was the work of a prankster.
Someone pulled a fire alarm in a guest hallway near a stairwell on the second floor, said Jeff Fuller, the new general manager at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham — The Wynfrey Hotel.
But there was no fire, no smoke and no evidence of who pulled the alarm, Fuller said. There is no video surveillance in the area where the alarm was pulled, and hotel officials could not find any video evidence of who could have done it, Fuller said.
The alarm went off about 30 minutes into the forum, just as Sam Swiney, a candidate for Hoover City Council Place 2, was answering his second question of four questions for the night — on transparency in city government.
A blaring alarm started sounding repeatedly, and a voice on the public address system directed people to the stairway to exit the building. After a brief pause, people began leaving the banquet room.
However, hotel officials within three minutes determined this was a false alarm and had people returning to the banquet room, before many had even gotten out of the room.
Fuller said generally in the hotel business, a fire alarm goes off in a hotel about once a month, and 80 percent of the time, they are false alarms.
When people returned to the banquet room Tuesday night, there was a faint smell as if something were burning, but Fuller said that was just the chillers on the air conditioning system getting restarted.
The forum got back under way quickly, and Swiney was able to restart the answer to his question from the beginning. After Swiney and his opponent, Councilman Gene Smith, finished, there still were questions remaining for 10 council candidates and the three mayoral candidates.