From 1980 to 2009, the number of fire department emergency responses more than doubled, from 10.8 million to 26.5 million, primarily driven by the more than tripling of medical aid calls, from 5.0 million in 1980 to 17.1 million in 2009. Fire department budgets have not kept pace with this rising volume of workload, and particularly in recent years, there has been increased concern about the cost of unnecessary responses. From 1980 to 2009, the number of emergency responses to fires fell by more than half, from 3.0 million to 1.3 million, and the number of emergency responses for fires or mutual aid fell by about one-fifth, but emergency responses to “false” alarms more than doubled, from 0.9 million to 2.2 million. The unwanted alarm issue changed over the past third of a century from a problem of malicious false alarms to an issue of non-fire activations of automatic detection and alarm systems.
From the point of view of the fire department, a response to a condition that does not need fire department action in order to avoid loss is both a waste of resources and a needless risk of injury during the response. Response to unwanted alarms is an issue that is receiving increasing attention at the community level.
This project was initiated by the Fire Protection Research Foundation to develop and implement a tool that can be used at the community level to assess risk, sand cost/benefit of strategies to reduce these risks, including appropriate emergency response protocols, enforcement of inspection and maintenance requirements, community education, etc. The goal of this project was to develop a practical, model-based tool that can be used by local fire departments with local data (to the extent possible) when deciding among courses of action to deal with unwanted alarms. The tool uses a generic model, combined with local data when available and national data when necessary, to estimate costs, fire losses and other impacts of strategies.
Three reports were produced for this project. The first is a literature review, Development of a Risk-Based Decision Support Tool to Assist Fire Departments in Managing Unwanted Alarms, the second, Development of a Risk-Based Decision Support Tool to Assist Fire Departments in Managing Unwanted Alarms, is a report that describes the tool and the underlying model that estimates costs, losses and other impacts for alternative strategies. It includes national data needed for calculating fire losses under alternate strategies. A third report, Development of a Risk-Based Decision Support Tool to Assist Fire Departments in Managing Unwanted Alarms, details a local data form that was also developed to collect data for use in the tool.
If you are interested in exploring the application of this methodology in your community, please contact the Foundation for more information.