Excessive “False Alarms” causing strain for Madison County Sheriff’s deputies and volunteer firefighters

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) - When a fire alarm goes off, or someone dials 911, first responders drop everything and go. But an increasing number of false alarms are sending volunteer fire fighters and Sheriff's deputies out on calls that turn out to be nothing.

There have been situations where  deputies have run more than 24 false alarms to the same location in the span of only 48 hours. First responders say it is a growing problem that distracts deputies and volunteer fire fighters when there are people who could truly be in need.

In 2013, Madison County Sheriff`s deputies responded to 1,104 false alarms.

"Anyone can have a false alarm, that's okay," said volunteer firefighter and Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong. "But when someone's having 5, 10 , 15 false alarms per week there`s something wrong with their system. Our problem is not with people who have alarms, it's with people who have faulty alarms that are in disrepair, not taken care of."

Often alarms are either low-quality and are set off by minor disturbances, others will send a signal when their batteries start to die. According to the Huntsville Police Department website:

  • 45% of alarm sites go all year without a false alarm
  • 35% have two or less
  • 20% create 85% of all false alarms
  • 5% create 50% of the false alarm problems
  • 79% of alarm users do not really have full knowledge of their system and its use, and
  • 89% of all false alarms are caused by people's carelessness

The false alarms not only cost the county money in terms of fuel, but it puts responders in unnecessary risk.

At Monrovia Volunteer Fire Department, a single emergency call puts 7 to 10 emergency vehicles on the road, with potentially 25 to 30 responders. This includes, on average, 3 fire trucks and 3 to 4 medical vehicles. This is in addition to "second due" department response - which might be from Huntsville Fire, Madison Fire, or Harvest Volunteer Fire Dept.

"There are numerous inherent dangers any time we respond to emergencies in our vehicles on the roadways with citizen drivers and the obvious driving hazards we face," wrote Assistant Fire Chief Jim Rountree.

In many cases, the county is sending out more than a million dollars in resources when they respond to any call.

"It’s wear and tear on our employees. The Sheriff's department or fire department, this is something that is truly a distraction from them doing the great job that they do," said Strong. "If any of these fire departments are involved in a car wreck going to a false alarm this right here is a bad situation."

Madison and Huntsville have ordinances allowing the city to fine people who set off numerous false alarms. The county has no such power. It would take local legislative action to authorize the Madison County Commission to levy fines on repeat offenders.

Strong plans to meet with county fire chiefs as well as Sheriff Blake Dorning to discuss possible solutions. He has also taken his concerns to Representative Phil Williams in hope of inspiring legislative action.