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Automatic Fire Alarm or Is It?

The other morning, as I was finishing breakfast and admiring the 22-inches of freshly fallen snow from two days prior, my pager opened, announcing for my department to respond to an Automatic Fire Alarm at a private residence. I pushed away from the table, bundled up, and headed for the location, which was less than a mile from my home.

En-route to the location, an additional dispatch announced that the alarm company had called back, reporting an overheated pan on the stove. With the heavy snow plowed up on the side of the road, it made it difficult to spot addresses on mailboxes, which were covered in snow. As I found the correct location, a residence sitting back 200-feet from the street, the first rig pulled up. Three of us trudged up the driveway, rang the door bell and were met by the homeowner, who offered her apologies for having us respond to an unnecessary alarm. She explained that she was drying a large cast iron frying pan on the stove and had momentarily forgotten about it, that is, until the home alarm sensed the smoke and activated the alarm system.

The homeowner had called the alarm company requesting they cancel the alarm and was advised that the fire department was on the way and couldn’t be cancelled. We explained how her alarm system works and how fire dispatch works in conjunction with her alarm system. The homeowner was most appreciative of our response and explanation as to why we continued our response to her location. We said our goodbyes as she continued to apologize, and headed back to the fire station.

Our fire department, like many others, is dispatched to many AFA’s (automatic fire alarms) in our community, and as in many departments, we have members who tend to shrug off AFA’s with a negative remark, and others who may not respond to the alarm. The members will complain that the AFA’s are wearing them out, the constant crying “Wolf” when there is no wolf, has an impact on them.

Many years ago, fire alarm systems were found in commercial buildings, buildings of public assembly, institutional facilities, and where fire sprinkler systems were installed. Today, under the name Security Systems, they can be found in almost any type occupancy, including residential homes. The primary function of the alarm system is to detect and initiate the transmission of an alarm to a private monitoring agency, where it is then transmitted to the local 911 dispatch center.

Fire, Police or EMS assistance, or any combination, will be automatically dispatched and once on the way, will not be returned by dispatch. Dispatch may transmit additional information, but they will not terminate your response. That will be determined by on scene investigation, or department policy. On scene investigation is always the best method. Maybe the occupant thought the problem was minor and had not noticed any fire spread. Cancelling response based on occupant call back may result in having to play catch up, followed by legal ramifications.

There also are false alarms transmitted from AFA’s caused by a variety of reasons. The primary reason would be poor, or lack of maintenance. Dust in the detector head is common; blow it out with a can of air and the system is back in business. Every now and then, the system may malfunction for no apparent reason. If it is a continual problem, the system needs technical assistance to correct the problem. Many communities have local ordinances that levy fines after so many false alarms are transmitted.

AFA’s are a part of the American technology age and they do make the job of firefighting safer by initiating early response to what may be smoke scares or incipient fires. Even I have a system!

Definition of automatic fire alarm system: a fire alarm system which detects the presence of a fire and automatically initiates a signal indicating its detection.

To be continued...

Till next time, Stay Safe and God Bless!

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Henry CampbellSenior Correspondent

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