Dramatic drop in malicious false fire alarms
BY WILLIAM MURPHY
June 12, 2005
Malicious false alarms, long a plague for city firefighters, have dropped dramatically in the past decade, from 119,797 in 1994 to 37,250 last year, according to Fire Department figures.
There are several theories for the decrease, but local and national fire officials are at a loss to give a definitive cause.
New computer and telephone technology under the enhanced 911 system, which gives a caller's location and phone number, has no doubt helped, as has an overall decline in fire activity.
What the Fire Department classifies as malicious false alarms dropped by nearly 19,500 in 1995, the year before the enhanced 911 service went into operation; by more than 28,000 in 1996, the year enhanced 911 was implemented; and slightly more than 8,000 in 1997, the year after the service was installed.
The Fire Department's chief spokesman, Frank Gribbon, offered a variety of theories, including enhanced 911, prosecutions of vandals who call in false alarms, fewer fire alarm boxes on the streets and fewer people using public pay phones, where they can be anonymous.
But he could not correlate any of those factors with a decrease in any one year, or any series of years. The decrease "is just a fact, I guess," Gribbon said. "People aren't making them."
A decade ago, the alarms accounted for about one out of every three emergency runs for city firefighters. Now, they are one out of every six runs. The department averages a total of about 1,250 runs daily.
The numbers also have been dropping nationally, from 365,000 in 1994 to 301,000 in 2003, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the National Fire Protection Association.
"It looks like most of the decline occurred early in the 1990s, and some of our numbers in recent years are actually higher than the late 1990s," said Dr. John Hall, the association's assistant vice president for fire analysis and research.
Hall said the organization did not have any explanation for the decline, although he noted it coincided with a decline in fire activity in the past two decades.
The decline "defies simple explanation," Hall said. "At least I don't have one."
Malicious false alarms were a major concern in the 1970s, when they typically were called in by teenagers in urban areas, the fire protection association said in a report in March.
Some cities began removing street alarm boxes -- although New York did not remove any of its boxes until the mid-1990s -- and there were public education campaigns and greater law enforcement.
Malicious false alarms -- those that are called in by people knowing there is no emergency -- peaked in the city in 1977, when there were 262,998. That year, there were 50,941 reported structural fires, compared with 27,615 structural fires last year.
The Fire Department has not put a dollar cost on false alarms, but they do cause wear and tear that shortens the life of big and expensive fire trucks.
More importantly, false alarms take firefighters away from responding to real emergencies and sometimes results in accidents as trucks race to false calls.
A veteran fire dispatcher, David Rosenzweig, said he thinks that in the past decade, because of a change in the department's codes for incidents, more firefighters have been reporting nonfire emergencies that formerly were reported as false alarms.
The department instituted a new radio code in the mid-1990s called a 10-91 to classify nonfire emergencies. A response that turned out to be an abandoned car blocking traffic, for instance, would be classified as a 10-91 instead of a 10-92, a malicious false alarm, he said.
"I've been trying to educate people to use 10-91 because management considers that an indicator of a productive use of our time. They don't with a 10-92," said Rosenzweig, a dispatcher since 1969 and the president of the Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association.
The Fire Department said Rosenzweig might be right, but that he was speculating.
However, the department acknowledged it also was speculating. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani tried to remove all 16,300 of the city's street alarm boxes in the mid-1990s, setting off a ferocious battle with fire dispatchers, civic groups and other elected officials.
They argued the boxes should be kept for safety reasons, saying among other things that in poorer neighborhoods fewer people had home telephones.
Giuliani signed compromise legislation in 1996 that would have removed about 4,000 boxes. But most of them were never removed, in part because of litigation, and there are about 15,000 boxes today on the streets and in other public locations, according to the Fire Department.
Many New Yorkers were pleased that the boxes worked during the August 2003 blackout when many telephones did not.
Rosenzweig said the mere threat of removing the boxes might have influenced public behavior in neighborhoods where the incidence of false alarms was worst.
"It may be that people in some areas realized that if they misused them, they would lose them, and that might have had an impact."
Copyright © 2005, Newsday, Inc.
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06-12-2005, 11:53 AM #1
- Join Date
- May 1999
- Here, There, Everywhere
Drop in malicious false fire alarms
06-12-2005, 10:06 PM #2
- Join Date
- May 2005
Ours dropped when sheriff and City police started charging $25/after3 for false calls. Don't have stats but it's noticeable.
06-13-2005, 02:59 PM #3
- Join Date
- May 1999
- Here, There, Everywhere
I think you are confusing Automatic Fire Alarms that are the result of malfucntions or are unwarranted alarms versus MFAs or Malicious False Alarms where a person reports a fire when no such condition exists.
Most of these are from people who pull a streetbox or call the FD dispatcher an report a fire when clearly there is none. Often non-existant addresses are given or the fire is reported in a Liqor Store when all there is at a box location is a OTB, Baptist Church, Highrise residential building and a vacant lot.
For us it is more of an Administrative Coding issue than anything. Years ago if lets say there was a car accident at an intersection or someone was stabbed and dragged themselves to the corner Fire Alarm Box and Pulled the box...once the 3,2 & Chief arrived to find anything other than a fire...many times it would have been clasified as a 10-92 or MFA.
Today we have other codes such as 10-91, 36, 37, 38 etc. That all allow for better classification of these runs...therfore aren't being marked as a MFA.
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