False fire alarms tax fire personnel

November 8, 2012 10:46:03 AM



When the alarm at a fire station sounds to signal a call coming in, firefighters are taught to react quickly and efficiently, every single time, regardless of what the call might be. 


This is exactly how it should be, Oktibbeha County Fire Services Coordinator Kirk Rosenhan said. Both county and city fire departments maintain a relentless focus for each call. 


But increasingly over the past few weeks, fire alarms have been pulled in the middle of the night at apartment complexes around Starkville, causing headaches for local fire departments. 


"On one hand, we know that there is nothing to it," Rosenhan said. "But we also know we can't just ignore them. It's part of the job." 


When an alarm is pulled with no immediate emergency, it is classified as a malicious false alarm, and though these have been an issue, especially for county departments as of late, general or accidental false alarms are more common, Starkville Fire Chief Roger Mann said. 


Fire departments must anticipate and budget for false alarms because of the high number received and the mass of equipment and manpower required to respond. 


For each alarm, a minimum of four fire trucks respond with more than a dozen firefighters in tow. 


Often, especially with the malicious incidents lately, firefighters are called out of bed in the early morning hours. 


Some alarm systems installed in local apartment complexes are sensitive enough to pick up faint dust particles, Mann said, and when too many are in the air, the alarm reads it as smoke and may alarm. So if a bag of popcorn is burned in one of these complexes, it's likely to trigger an alarm. 


"That is probably a third of our false alarms, even though they are really more human error," Mann said. "We would a lot rather go to a call, though, where you have been cooking your popcorn too long, than go to a call where there is a working fire."