False Alarms Are Still With Us
For more years than anyone cares to remember every community fortunate enough to have a fire department has been, at one time or another, plagued with the problem of false alarms. Despite all appeals to the public to assist in stamping out this evil, with its attendant dangers to fire fighters as well as to citizens, the inconsiderate thrill-seeker or malicious troublemaker has continued to harass and annoy by this means.
In some communities the problem reached such heights in the past that when public education campaigns coupled with scientific crime deterrents apparently failed, entirely new types of fire alarm systems were installed in the hope they would correct this hazardous evil. In the past year or so little has been heard of this problem as other forces, brought about by the changes in our way of life, have occupied the attention of practically all fire service authorities. However false alarms are still with us as a glance at the Round Table beginning in this issue will show.
In the past all alarms resulting in unnecessary movement of fire apparatus were branded “false” despite the intentions of the person responsible at the time of sounding. Fortunately, enlightened fire chiefs have revised terminology so that practically all departments now differentiate between honest mistakes or accidental alarms and those sounded with malicious intent. This one change has east a different light on the entire subject and today, with certain exceptions, most fire chiefs report that while false alarms are still a dangerous irritant, they are not increasing.
Despite the phenomenal expansion of our country in the past ten years or so, resulting in more hands and minds which could be directed to malicious ends, the false alarm problem appears to have stabilized. This indicates that public education and corrective campaigns have been more successful in arresting the growth than many have believed. Continuation of these campaigns may not show significant effects in the future, hut they are necessary in order to maintain the good results that have been gained.
Two significant factors have also been brought to light in recent months. One is the increasing number of false telephone calls. Coupled with this, some chiefs have noted that more women and girls are now becoming involved in the problem. In the past, false alarms have been almost exclusively a male prank. With the increasing availability of telephones it is easy to understand that the adventuresome female can be expected to appear more frequently as the offender in the future. The privacy afforded by telephones plus their easy accessibility may be a contributing factor in this area of female psychology.
Practically all fire chiefs have noted the cooperation of the local press in publicity campaigns directed to the general public. Fire department education activities directed against false alarms have been assisted by the press and in all probability could not be of any value without this help. Continuation of these relations is a necessity if the fire service is to remain abreast of the problem.
A disheartening factor is that a large and growing percentage of persons apprehended for sounding false alarms turn out to be juveniles. Due to most state laws governing the juvenile little can be done in the form of punishment to deter repetition. If educational programs directed to grammar and high school children fail to stem the tide, then fire service associations must call this to the attention of legislators and attempt to find a solution. The day is fast approaching when an indulgent legal attitude cannot be tolerated if we are to cope with the conditions of life that face us all.
False alarms have been with us since the early days of the fire service and most likely will continue as long as the service exists. As this country continues to grow it will be necessary that efforts to control the malicious person be continued and expanded in order to keep abreast of the problem. Unless the fire service keeps this constantly in view it is possible that false alarms can get out of hand completely.