False alarms make apartment residents complacent

Grand Marc management and a local fire marshal warned against ignoring fire alarms.

by Vadim Lavrusik

The fire alarm rang through the building. But Jessie Whittaker rolled over and continued her nap.

Fire alarms have become a regular occurrence at Grand Marc, an apartment complex on the West Bank, where Whittaker lives.

Whittaker, an environmental policy and education junior, is one of many students living in large apartment complexes who have heard fire alarms so many times they neither respond nor take them seriously.

“Now everyone assumes it is a false alarm, so if it really was a fire not many students would react to it,” she said.

The Grand Marc alarm has gone off at least five times in the past couple months because it is designed to go off when the water pressure drops below a certain level, said property manager Casey Petersen.

Not only is it a safety hazard, but a costly one as well.

The fire department’s budget is roughly $52.1 million this year and it receives about 38,000 calls a year. Each call costs about $1,370. False fire alarms, where there is no actual fire, make up about 27 percent of the calls, costing the department about $14 million a year.

Although there might not be a fire, alarms are designed to go off when there is some sort of problem, said Station 19 Fire Capt. Ben Jangula.

“It can be a real danger to people because 99 out of 100 times it is a false alarm, but the 100th time we will have a genuine fire,” Jangula said.

Petersen said a fire alarm going off because of low water pressure is something the management doesn’t have control over.

It is a common problem in the area, he said.

“Safety is our number one priority,” he said. “We have notified our residents that they should treat any alarm as the real thing and act accordingly.”

Whittaker said she was frustrated because Grand Marc management never told residents why the fire alarms were going off.

She said she found out after she and her roommates went to the front desk to inquire about the alarms.

Melrose Student Suites has had similar problems.

Kristi Pell, a journalism sophomore, said it seems like she sees the fire trucks outside of Melrose almost every night.

Jangula said his station has responded to “quite a few” calls from Melrose. The city doesn’t issue fines for excessive calls from a particular address, even if it is a false alarm.

Pell said fire alarms in Melrose usually go off because someone burnt something while cooking.

Melrose apartment windows don’t open and students instead open their doors when they burn something, she said, letting smoke seep into the hallway where fire detectors are located.

Melrose management told students to open the doors in their bedrooms and bathrooms that have ventilation systems, she said.

“If I see the fire trucks out here I don’t think anything of it,” she said. “I just think someone burnt toast or burnt whatever they were making.

“There is never an actual emergency; it kind of happens so frequently you get used to it.”

Melrose management did not return phone calls for comment.

Burnt food isn’t the only reason for false alarms. Many of the false fire alarms around campus happen when students activate them for fun.

Minneapolis Fire Marshal Dave DeWall said there are people in college who still think it’s fun to pull the fire alarm.

“It is against the law to cry wolf,” DeWall said.

The department doesn’t usually prosecute young people, but instead explains the possible damages of their actions, he said.

He said when the fire department sends out trucks on a call that turns out to be a false alarm, fewer firefighters are available to respond if there’s a medical call where, for instance, someone is having a heart attack.

He said 70 percent of the calls the Minneapolis Fire Department responds to each year are medical calls, and firefighters are often on the scene before paramedics.

So when someone pulls the alarm as a prank, they could have an impact on someone who actually needs help, he said.

And, regardless of what the call might be, he said, each student should respond to fire alarms like they’re the real thing.