Fire Calls are Up, and so are False Alarms

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More and more people are calling US fire departments, and more and more often, it's a false alarm call.

"There are several things that can cause a false alarm call," said Mike Donaho of the Bryan Fire Department. "A lot of times, a power surge, if the electricity turns off and then back on again."

"With the university inside our city limits, almost every building on campus has an alarm system" said Bart Humphreys of the College Station Fire Department. "The more alarm systems you have, the more chance you have of having malfunctions and false calls."

When you think of false alarms, you might think of school children pulling a prank in a hallway or a prank phone call to 911. But according to a national fire study, malicious calls are the vast minority (13.7 percent), with the majority of false alarms being the aforementioned system malfunctions (36.3 percent), or unintentional calls (35.3 percent), where a person thinks they see something worthy of a call, but it turns out to be nothing.

"We would rather come to a call and not be needed than have someone hesitant to call 911," Donaho said.

Of course, each time the fire department deploys to a location, it can cost in the neighborhood of $400 for a false call. Also telling in the national study are the trends over the last 24 years. Since 1980, false alarm calls have increased (from 900,000 to 2.2 million), as have the total number of calls (from 10.8 million to 22.4 million), but down are the calls to the fire department for fires (from 3 million to 1.6 million). Local officials attribute the change to a number of things.

"We're out in the school districts, trying to catch kids when they're young, to teach them fire safety," said Donaho. "We're out in the community working with businesses. There's codes and ordinances now that have to be abided by when new construction comes in."

"We have so much new construction, single family, multi-family and commercial structures that are built under new, improved, stringent codes," said Humphreys.

Like the national trend, calls to local fire departments have increased over the years. When it comes to false calls, Bryan is a bit under the average of 10 percent, while College Station is right on the average.

Recent stats show sixty percent of calls to the fire department are for medical emergencies.