July 23, 2018 4:51 pm

False fire alarms proving costly to Halifax Fire and Emergency Services

Mon, Jul 23: A hefty increase in fines for false fire alarms hasn't curbed the number that fire crews in Halifax are responding to. As Alicia Draus reports, since the increase a year ago, $690,000 has been collected for false alarms.

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It has been a busy day for Halifax Fire and Emergency Services, with crews responding to 27 false fire alarms. It is a high number, but on average, crews respond to about eight or nine false alarm calls a day.

Division Chief for fire prevention, Matt Covey, said false alarms can happen for a number of reasons.

“Sometimes it’s the detection equipment that’s detected something that’s not a fire, steam, burnt food being cooked, or someone pulled a fire pull station intentionally,” Covey said.

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Responding to false alarms can be costly to the station in more ways than one.

“The biggest impact is it ties up a crew,” said Covey.

“Even if we get confirmation en route that there is no fire, we still have to go and confirm that, so we have to go to a location. If there’s another alarm, a real fire, we could be on the opposite end of our area and that could cause a delayed response.”

But there is also a financial impact with the cost to get trucks out on the roads. To help cover those costs, the HRM increased fees for false alarms last year.

The first false alarm is free, but the second comes with a fine of $200, the third $300, and all subsequent false alarms cost $500.

Over the past year, about $690,000 was collected from fines for false alarms. Covey said the new fines have helped to balance the books.

But Kevin Russell, executive director of the Investment Property Owners Association of Nova Scotia (IPOANS), said the new fines can be costly to landlords.

“Landlords don’t like fee increases as is,” Russell said, “because it goes to negatively impacting rent. Any increase in fees is always a concern.”

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While the new fines were not put in place as a deterrence, Covey said the installation of photoelectric detectors could help to decrease the number of false alarms.

“Older buildings would have ionization detection, newer ones have photo electric,” Covey said. “Photoelectrics preform just as well or better than ionization, but they’re less likely to trigger from steam or burnt toast kind of thing, so they’re less likely to produce a false alarm situation.”

Upgrading older buildings could be even more costly for property owners, with costs reaching six figures depending on the work that needs to be done. Russell said he understands why the fire department is pushing for photoelectric detectors, but said it is important to note that even without them, buildings are up to code.

“Every year, landlords go through a rigorous fire inspection with the Halifax fire department, and any code deficiencies that are found at that time must be corrected and our landlords will correct them,” he said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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