With one month of reporting left, Ponoka County fire services has already gone over their 2018 call volume.
Regional Fire Chief Dennis Jones made his annual year-end presentation to council at their meeting on Dec. 10, where he explained the east and west district departments have seen 413 calls as of Nov. 30. That compares with the 2018 total of 398.
When the numbers are broken down, the Town of Ponoka came out having the most calls at 154. Those included 14 fires, six grass or rubbish, 19 vehicle accidents, 69 false alarms and 46 calls for public service and assisting other agencies.
There were 138 calls within the county — 23 fires, 28 grass or rubbish, 48 false alarms, nine vehicle accidents and 30 public service and other agency assistance calls.
The rest of the figures include 66 highway incidents, 49 calls in the Town of Rimbey, one in the Summer Village of Parkland Beach and five for mutual aid.
“We are up quite a bit,” Jones said.
“One of the big things is the alarms. We are working in consultation with both towns to come up with an alarm warnings campaign, to get people to be better stewards and cut back on some of these false alarm calls.”
In the county, property owners get a free pass on their first false alarm before the county can start handing out fines, which begin at $100, $200 for another false alarm and $300 for any subsequent call within a calendar year.
The Town of Ponoka’s bylaw states a written warning can be issued on the third false alarm with a similar fine structure to be enforced at the enforcement officer’s discretion. As the town, not the owner, is charged for the call response, that translates into nearly $93,000 being billed to the town this year for false alarms alone.
However, Jones said the department attempts to work with the property owners and is hopeful the new campaign will work.
“Where we run into problems is a smoke detector is set off by someone cooking and most places have monitored alarms, so the alarm company calls and no one answers since they don’t recognize the number,” he noted.
“So then the alarm company assumes there is a fire with either no one home or people trapped, so we get dispatched.”
Jones added that’s why getting people to either put that 800 number from their alarm company into their phone, so they recognize it and answer, is part of decreasing the frequency of these false alarms.
One other reason he explained for the rising number of false alarms is that many companies are putting the detectors in the wrong places.