False Fire Alarms


False fire alarms – and the adage that history repeats itself – are two realistic facts.  The development of the telegraph alarm system, followed by the telophone and radio, brought about a series of first generation systems for the public to to summon the fire department in time of emergency need.  The first device was the street corner fire alarm box, strategically placed in a community for public use as a means of automatic notification of public safety forces to an emergency.  They were the familiar red fire alarm box installed on every street corner in the United States.  This familiar street corner icon served a timely and important purpose.  The now ancient technology also brought about a new phenomenon – the birth of false fire alarms.  These boxes soon became branded in many communities as the major source of nuisance fire alarms recieved by the fire department.  For this and other supporting reasons came the demise of the now antiquated street corner fire alarm boxes.

Enter now, modern age technology: cell phones, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, sprinkler systems, and computer video monitoring cameras.  All of these items have a purpose in our security minded society: provide a means with which to notify the fire department to respond to fire and life safety emergencies.

With this capability came the repeating of history theory.  The frequency rate and seriousness of false fire alarm activations recieved by the department from automatic alarm systems is illustrated by the fact that twenty to twenty-five percent (20-25%) of our department’s response activity is to false fire alarm activations.  The national rate for fire department response to this type of call is only ten percent (10%).  The frequency reflects on the increased number of homes, businesses, and commercial buildings that now have fire and security alarms installed.  It also reflects on the need for individuals and property managers whose homes and facilities are equipped with automatic fire and life safety alarms to fully understand how their system works.

False fire alarm activations are categorized as system malfunction, unintentional, malicious, and other. The two leading causes for the Hermitage Fire Department’s false fire alarms are system malfunction and unintentional activations.

In an attempt to reduce the number of false fire alarms now being recieved by the department, we ask that all homeowners and property managers follow these simple guidelines should your fire alarm system activate for any reason.

Fire alarm permit requirement: The City of Hermitage requires that a fire alarm permit be issued for all monitored fire alarm system by any company.  Permit information and applications may be obtained by contacting the Department’s administrative office at (724) 342-0669.

Property key holder information: It is extermely important to maintain with the fire department an updated listing of key holders to your alarmed property.  Having a keyholder avaliable to respond in your absence permits emergency responders to enter the property without creating damage.  This allows the responders to investigate the alarm activation quicker and more thoroughly.

Alarm reset code and password: Ensure all key holders, authorized individuals, and/or family members know your alarm reset code and password, including how to reset the system after inspection by emergency responders.

Maintenance: Alarm systems require preventative maintenance – cleaning and testing – at a minimum once per year – to prevent false activations.

Alarm testing: Before testing your fire alarm system, notify the fire department’s administrative office.  Doing this prevents a false fire alarm response by the department.

Property maintenance and remodeling: Advise your contractor that the property is alarmed.  During work hours, the alarm should be placed in the test mode to prevent false activations.  Any disruption of the electrical or telephone system or generation on dust near the detectors will likely cause false activation.

City and State ordinance – fines and disconnect: Keep in mind that the fire department, by law, can issue citations for the transmission of false fire alarms.  In addition, they can order the dissconnection of monitored alarm systems when the frequency of false activations reaches a nuisance level or the response endangers emergency responders.

Fire alarm activation: If all else fails and the fire alarm activates, treat it as though it were a true emergency and take them seriously. When the alarm activates, call 911 immediately.  Advise them of the situation and any visible smoke or fire.  If the fire alarm activation is known to be false, advise the dispatcher of that.  Do not call your alarm service provider; they will be calling you.  Be sure to notify 911 first, so that they can make responding firefighters aware of the situation.  Calling 911 first ensures that they have recieved the alarm from the alarm company and that they are sending help to your location.  It is very important to reinforce this notification procedure – CALL 911 FIRST!

Remember, false fire alarm activations tax the department’s operations, impact on the wear and maintenance of the fire apparatus, and most importantly, jeopardize the safety of emergency responders to any emergency alarm.  It cannot be presumed false, unless otherwise notified.  Therefore, the fire department and firefighters must respond as through it were a true emergency every time.

We trust that after reading our commentary about how to manage and reduce false fire alarm activations, we will be able to work together towards reducing their frequency.  Doing so removes our emergency responders from unwarranted response dangers and allows them to serve our citizens in a more productive manner.

We thank our citizens and the community for the support given our firefighters and on behalf of the officers, members, and staff of the department, we wish you a prosperous and fire safe 2012.