Imagine you’re a hard-working firefighter. You’re in the station, working a 24-hour shift and just finished the evening checklist. You get in bed, hoping for no fire to fight, but prepared to jump out of bed and race to one, should the need arise.
It’s 3:13 a.m. An alarm has been activated at a local store. It’s indicating smoke in a cooking area. You throw on your gear, get in your truck and get to the call in record time.
There’s no smoke, there’s no fire. It’s a faulty alarm. You and your cohorts go back to the station, put away the equipment and go back to bed.
That scenario is not only possible but happens quite often for the Española Fire Department.
For city police, it’s much worse. However, they’re out and patrolling already so it’s not a sleep intrusion and actually part of shift work.
You won’t see it in the weekly blotter we publish but there are easily a half dozen false alarms of all kinds daily. The cause is anything from a faulty alarm (sensor), an animal, or someone actually rattling a door or window trying to gain entrance.
Regardless, firefighters and police must respond to every alarm call as if it was real: fire blazing away or burglars hauling valuables out the door.
At this writing Española Fire Department Chief Ron Padilla asked the city council to approve a measure he believes is a partial answer to the problem. Padilla wants to charge people for false alarms. You get two freebies, then you get a bill for $50 for every false alarm thereafter.
We don’t think this “all or nothing” approach is quite right.
The problem falls to the cause for the false alarms. If someone’s alarm is going off because of a bad sensor or Fluffy jumping around a room he’s not supposed to be in, then yes, hit them with a bill. Police and firefighters should not be burdened because a home or business owner is too cheap or simply negligent to have their alarm serviced properly.
However, there are those who suffer from the continual mass movement of people who wander from business to home to business seeking a way in to steal something. The E-911 computer automated dispatch is full of people calling to report someone in their yard, knocking on a window, looking in cars or trying to get in a shed.
Often when these desperate people rattle doors or windows, especially of a business, they can set off an alarm. There are about a half dozen businesses in town with this problem. Different alarms are activated because of an outside intrusion.
We suggest, instead of an “all or nothing” approach, there be some sort of division of problems and work toward education to what law enforcement and fire call “key holders.” Those who are continual problems and not making an effort, sure hit them with a fine. However, if someone has a good alarm system in place and is at the mercy of criminal elements, the Fire Department should work with them.
Also before any fees are levied, the Fire Department should send notices to the problem businesses and residences explaining the problem, how many times they’ve had false alarms, how this disrupts calls to real emergencies and how these problem folks should address their alarm issue(s).
After that, those who won’t work with the Department should be fined and we suggest a higher fee. If someone isn’t willing to address a clear problem that is theirs, it will take a lot more than $50 to get their attention.