The Estevan Fire and Rescue Services is urging the public to take a little more caution when cooking, and to know their password if a monitored alarm system has been installed in their home.
The fire department, which is staffed by volunteer firefighters, has seen a staggering increase in the number of false alarms this year, said Fire Chief Ron Tocker. False alarms represent roughly a third of the 200 calls they have been dispatched to this year.
“That's an awful lot of calls for our firefighters to just drop their life and respond, because we don't know that's a false alarm,” said Tocker.
Unattended cooking is the biggest source of those false alarms. They have had to respond to a couple of fires this year from unattended cooking.
Local firefighters whole-heartedly support the monitoring system, which has been installed in many local residences, but the fire department has found that people aren't aware of how the system works when an alarm is triggered by burning toast or another cooking issue.
“These systems are fantastic,” said Tocker. “They're monitored by an agency – we don't know where they are, they can be anywhere in the world, because it's all done by phone and satellite.”
But if the alarm is triggered by cooking or any other cause, the monitoring agency contacts the homeowner and asks for the password. If the homeowner doesn't respond to the call or doesn't know password, the security firm will dispatch the fire department.
“The homeowner needs to make sure that anybody who is going to be in that house should know that password,” said Tocker. “That way, any preventable false alarm is stopped before they dispatch us.”
A child, a baby-sitter or a home-sitter might be the one to set off the alarm, Tocker said.
When the monitor systems were first installed, the fire department would automatically be dispatched if the fire alarm was tripped. Now, if a resident can supply the password promptly, the fire department won't have to respond to the call.
If there is an actual fire, or if an intruder trips the alarm, then the necessary personnel is dispatched almost immediately, Tocker said, and that's why the system is so beneficial.
Tocker said he doesn't know what percentage of homes in Estevan have the monitoring system, but the company that owns the system has canvassed the community previously.
There's also a financial benefit for knowing the password, Tocker said, for both the homeowner and the City. The fire department charges a homeowner $200 for a first time call on a false alarm. The second call is $225, and the each subsequent call until the one-year anniversary of the first call is $250.
Those fines recoup some of the costs of responding to a call, Tocker said, but it costs a lot more money for the fire department to respond – expenses that are borne by the taxpayer.