False Fire Alarms

Julius E. Halas offers solutions to a problem that continues to plague the public and the fire service.


The advent and implementation of early-warning smoke detection and fire alarm technology has provided the public with life-safety protection not available from the traditional fire service. However, this technology, yet to be perfected, has also caused problems for the public it was created to...


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The advent and implementation of early-warning smoke detection and fire alarm technology has provided the public with life-safety protection not available from the traditional fire service. However, this technology, yet to be perfected, has also caused problems for the public it was created to serve, as well as for the fire service.

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False alarms or alarm malfunctions, resulting from a number of causes, have continued to increase in communities throughout America. As this trend persisted, numerous jurisdictions attempted to mitigate the problem, often with less than acceptable results. Likewise, law enforcement agencies are dealing with a similar problem of false alarms in the rapidly growing number of burglar alarm systems in commercial and residential environments. The goal of this article is to review problems caused by false fire alarms, but more importantly, to examine some specific solutions and action steps for developing a comprehensive approach to solving the false alarm problem.

Some Of The Problems

While fire and burglar alarm technology was rapidly changing during the 1970s and '80s, the public was realizing an increased need for crime prevention and fire protection. Numerous alarm systems were installed to meet the need and comply with applicable codes and regulations. This technology, which included smoke detection equipment, had yet to be perfected and was too often installed by personnel lacking sufficient expertise in their field. Moreover, this sharp rise in the number of alarm systems, many of which were monitored or supervised by a central station, contributed greatly to a growing problem of false fire and burglar alarms.

These unwanted alarms or alarm malfunctions (originating from causes other than actual heat, smoke and fire or from crimes and attempted crimes) began to have adverse effects on emergency resources across the nation. Specifically, these rising false alarms significantly affected available manpower for true emergencies, increased safety hazards to emergency personnel and the public, and eroded the trust and confidence many building occupants had in these alarm systems.

Although causes of false alarms in fire alarm systems appear different than those in burglar alarm systems, some important common denominators do exist. Many "authorities having jurisdiction" (AHJs) are recognizing that the false alarm situation is indeed a multi-faceted problem and can only be solved by using a comprehensive approach. Failure to take meaningful corrective action will have disastrous consequences for citizens and will cause public safety officials to question whether they can continue to increase personnel and resources to respond to these chronic false alarms.

As the current Fire Service Associate member of the Alarm Association of Florida (AAF) board of directors, I have worked with the association's False Alarm Reduction Effort (FARE) Committee for nearly four years. The AAF president, Fred Aaron, an alarm company owner, said he is convinced that the false alarm problem may well be the worst enemy facing the alarm industry. He has stated that "the alarm industry has attracted the attention of officials who are going to fix the problem."

He further advises his peers that "our job, as alarm professionals, is to work with the police and fire officials in our communities to take the lead with FARE. The FARE Committee is in the process of developing materials that will soon be available to help us in this battle. But, in the meantime, we all must commit ourselves to becoming a part of the solution since we are already part of the problem. If we do not take immediate action, and encourage others to do likewise, we will find ourselves in a regulated environment so oppressive that we will be unable to operate our businesses, with no one to blame but ourselves."

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