False alarms leading the way in increased calls to fire department



2018 was a busy year for area firefighters. Primarily with nuisance alarms.

The Huntsville/Lake of Bays Fire Department responded to 505 calls in 2018 versus 393 in 2017. While all areas increased, the number of false alarms increased by 26 per cent.

“Alarms are starting to get out of control because more and more people are putting security-type alarm systems in their homes for insurance reasons,” said Deputy Chief Gary Monahan. “Some insurance companies offer a discount if you have a monitoring company.”

Typically with a monitoring company, the fire department is automatically notified when the fire alarm sounds.

“We need to educate the public,” said Monahan. “We ask residents to test their alarms, but if they test it without notifying the monitoring company, the monitoring company automatically notifies the fire department.”

The fire department is looking into an education component to help residents understand their responsibilities if they use a monitoring company.

“People need to know more about security-type alarm systems,” said Monahan. “If we respond and the call is deemed preventable or a nuisance, the resident could be invoiced $495 a truck.”

Monahan attributes part of the problem to short-term rentals.

“If it’s monitored, the renters generally aren’t aware,” he said. “The monitoring company is trying to get in touch with a key holder, who is who knows where, and the fire truck is on its way. We knock on the door and people say, ‘What are you doing here?’ We don’t want to start invoicing people $495 a truck every time their alarm goes off. We need to start educating the public.”

Faulty and end-of-life smoke and carbon monoxide alarms also contributed to the increase. Monahan said the fire department receives calls for alarms that are chirping because the owner doesn’t know what it means.

“Everything comes back down to public education,” he said.

Nearly 80 per cent of the alarm calls the fire department responded to were not legally required, by the building code, to have a monitoring company. Monahan said residential homes aren’t required to have a monitoring company.

“Home owners should talk to their monitoring companies to make sure if they’re not first notified, then be aware that fire is coming and if it’s deemed a nuisance or preventable they could be invoiced,” said Monahan. “They need to understand how the monitoring companies operate and who is the first contact. It’s a good idea to have a first, second and even a third contact. If the monitoring company says fire is the first notified they might want to look at a different company.”

Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department 5-year call trend (Image: Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department)

Huntsville/Lake of Bays Fire Department 5-year call trend (Image: Huntsville Lake of Bays Fire Department)

Senior officer calls (burn complaints and power lines) along with fires, medical calls and rescue calls were also up.

Among the calls the fire department responded to in 2018 were 37 fire events, 54 rescue calls, 59 tiered medical calls, 95 senior officer calls, and 164 alarm activations.

“Three major storms went through our area last year, plus we were in extreme burn conditions for about three weeks,” said Monahan. “Even though the calls were up, we can actually look at it and say it was storm related. I don’t think that’s going to change. I’m assuming we’re going to get another three storms this year. There’s no concern with fire calls. The alarms are more concerning.”

Monahan said more call volume doesn’t necessarily translate to a pay increase.

“Costing-wise there was a small increase to part-timers pay, but you have to remember you could have 505 calls and they could all be one hour calls, or you could have 300 calls and 20 per cent are eight hours long. So it’s not based on calls, it’s based on hours worked,” he said.

As far as affecting municipal budgets, Monahan said the fire department would need a massive increase in calls year after year.

“If I showed a massive increase this year and a massive increase in hours next year then we would have to look at it,” he said. “But we had a massive increase (in hours) in 2015, then it went back down, then it started to climb again. So budget-wise it’s not affecting us.”

If residents have any concerns or questions when it comes to alarms or monitoring services, Monahan encourages them to contact the fire department.

“I don’t want people not to call 9-1-1 because they’re afraid they’re going to get an invoice. Call 9-1-1, but look more into your monitoring company and know who the first contact is,” he said. “We’d rather educate than invoice residents.”

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1 Comment

  1. Marg Wiegand on

    Everyone needs to be educated about the process put in place with house alarms, but it’s the insurance companies and alarm companies that are reaping the benefits. They should be doing a better job of educating their customers, before alarms are put in place. Also if a home is rented, it’s up to the renter to educate his tenant. Unnecessary calls should be billed. It can be the best educator. Fire departments should not beggar their budgets to educate about this.

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