False Alarms

By: Venton Blandin
By: Venton Blandin

There are no guarantees in life, but like most people you expect certain things. If you were involved in a crime, you would see police. If you were in an accident, you would see an ambulance, and if you were in a fire you'd expect to see the fire department.

You should know every fire is not always what it seems, and that could be putting you at risk while wasting resources in Charlottesville.

"We're probably running somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,500 to 7,000 calls a year," said Charlottesville Deputy Fire Chief Britt Grimm.

Not every fire result in smoke and flames. Charlottesville Deputy Fire Chief Britt Grimm said about 2,000 of those calls were false alarms.

"They are pretty much anything the public, or the caller thinks is a true emergency, but when we arrive, and find out it actually is not can go into that broad category," added Deputy Chief Grimm.

Some examples could be when someone makes a prank call. Another, is an honest mistake when someone sees steam from a roof as the sun burns away condensation. Then, there is the common example, when an alarm is activated after being triggered by something it thinks is smoke.

"Any sizable commercial building nowadays has an alarm system in it, and the likelihood is at the some point that alarm system is going to activate," added Deputy Chief Grimm.

The activations sound most often inside buildings on the downtown mall, at the Barracks Road Shopping Center, on grounds at the University of Virginia, and at hospitals.

With each call, at least one truck, and three firefighters respond which can be seen as a waste of time, or even money.

In fact, the city's fire department spent an estimated $200,000 on false alarms last year alone.

"If you worked it out a little differently it's going to come down somewhat," added Deputy Chief Grimm.

No matter how you work it the response is not free. While you may not see an actual bill, you are paying through taxes, and time lost. However, the University of Virginia does work with the Charlottesville Fire Department to keep the number of alarms activations at the hospital low.

"We talk about what will set off an alarm, smoke detectors, heat detectors, and what type of devices will activate those alarms. We also make sure they know what to do when those type of alarm activations do occur," said University of Virginia Fire Marshal Gerald Drumheller.

Even with all that training the alarm activations continue sounding at the hospital.

"Some of the systems are advanced, and they pick up any type of small thing that will happen like dust in the air, or something like that," added Drumheller.

Firefighters point out, the activations are proof the alarms do work, and will work if there was an actual emergency. In the end, firefighters say it is not a total waste of time.

"We would rather have the opportunity to go verify there is not a true emergency there than to have somebody go investigate it on their own," added Deputy Chief Grimm.

For those with a home alarm system, whether it is for the police, or fire department you may already know it's not free. We found some companies charging up to $100 for more than two false alarms at your home.

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