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False alarms continue to be an issue for DFD

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In looking back at 2019, Dauphin Fire Chief Cam Abrey is pleased the number of calls is down, but concerned that false alarms continue to be such an issue for his department.
“There were 206 incidents in 2019, as compared to 229 the previous year; which is an approximate 11 per cent decrease in emergency response,” Abrey said.
“This is below the 10-year average of 215 incidents per year.”
At 33 per cent, false alarms make up the largest category of calls.
“That is where there is no smoke and no fire present,” Abrey said, adding false alarms are not to be confused with kitchen incidents in which smoke has activated the alarm.
“With something on the stove, something in the oven or even the toaster, smoke is activating the alarm, which is what it is designed to do, to detect it. So in essence that is not a false alarm, because your system is functioning as it should be.”
False alarms mostly result from defective equipment, Abrey said, however, there is a human element which comes into play.
“The biggest thing has been humidity, dirty detector heads, outdated detector heads that are giving false readings. Or in larger facilities where somebody has a fire alarm system installed, where they are doing work to the system, or they are doing a fire drill and they haven’t notified the monitoring company,” he said.
Over the last few years, with facilities such as the hospital and Mackenzie Middle School undergoing major renovations, false alarms have become a factor, Abrey added.
“And several of the false alarms over the year have been individuals pulling pull stations, for whatever reason,” he said.
“Those are intentional occurrences and it is a criminal act, because you are tampering with a life safety system. And people can be charged by the RCMP for that.”
Beyond the annoyance of such incidents, Abrey said, lies a real danger, as emergency resources are tied up and unavailable.
“It not just the fire department responding if we get an alarm to a building. It is usually the RCMP and ambulance also rolling up. That is our typical response,” he said.
“So now you are tying up all emergency services. It is not just budget, it is resources, as well.”
Under a City of Dauphin bylaw, a property owner may be charged for false alarms response. Each property is allowed the first two false alarms at no charge.
However, the third incident triggers a fine of $350, the fourth a fine of $500 and each subsequent false alarm a fine of $800 per occurrence.
“There is an appeal process. We just report the false alarms to the City or the RM and it is up to them to issue the fine and make the decision as to whether it should be charged or not,” Abrey said.
Power outages are an example of a false alarm which will still be recorded, but is not likely to trigger a fine for the property owner, Abrey added.
The fines are not a cost recovery vehicle, as a response by the fire department costs more than $2,000 per hour.
“It is not just the wages of the firefighters. There is the cost of the fuel, the maintenance, the depreciation value on the apparatus, the firefighters’ turnout gear,” he said.
The fines laid out in the bylaw are more about increasing awareness, Abrey said.
And it is working.
“Our false alarms have actually decreased over the past number of years,” Abrey said, adding many false alarms are easily preventable.
“If you are conducting a fire drill and you have a monitored alarm, please call your monitoring company to advise in order to prevent the Department from being dispatched.”