Bryson City Fire Department failed its state mandated insurance inspection last week for failing to respond to false alarms.
The department would often be en route to a call when firefighters heard from 9-1-1 dispatchers that it was actually a false alarm. The dispatcher would cancel the call, and the volunteer firefighters would go back home. It is unknown how many instances there were. It only takes two so-called “non-responses” to fail the inspection, and after that the state quits counting, said Marni Schribman, a public information officer with the N.C. Department of Insurance, in an email.
The state requires fire departments to respond to the scene, even in the case of a false alarm, to verify it is indeed false. The inspector met with the local dispatch supervisor and informed them of the rule, Schribman said. The dispatch supervisor said they will now notify the fire department if a call is a false alarm but will not cancel the fire department’s response, she said.
The argument over the non-responses seems to be a matter of paperwork, however.
If at least four firefighters do not report to the scene when a fire alarm is triggered, the call must be classified as a non-response. In some cases, a single firefighter may continue to the scene, but if the required four do not, it gets logged as non-response.
Fire departments are required to submit all their calls to the N.C. Department of Insurance. There is nowhere in the filings for the fire department to indicate if a firefighter confirmed a false alarm call, said David Breedlove, coordinator of Swain County 9-1-1.
Dispatch is working on how it logs calls to make records more comprehensive, Breedlove said.
Swain County’s three volunteer fire departments receive about 20 false alarm calls each year, he said. Most of the false alarm calls come from non-residential buildings, and a worker is usually present to confirm over the phone to the dispatcher that there is indeed no fire.
The Bryson City Fire Department has now been placed on a 12-month probation and must not report any non-responses during that time.
“If they continue to have non-responses on a regular basis, then they could lose the current insurance rating,” Schribman said.
The probation will not affect their current rating or insurance rates for homeowners in their coverage area. The fire department has a good rating, Schribman said.
The state insurance department must inspect fire departments at least every five years, and a low rating could cause the price of homeowner’s insurance to rise.
The Cashiers Glenville Fire Department in neighboring Jackson County only receives two or three false alarms each year.
“We don’t have a whole lot,” said Corey Middleton, chief of the department.
Often times, false alarms are triggered by strong winds or thunderstorms, Middleton said. When the department learns that the alarm is false, whoever is closest to the scene continues to the address to confirm the false alarm, he said.