Fed up and frustrated, a Yellowknife renter is sounding off about frequent false fire alarms she says bog down the city’s fire department while putting her family and fellow tenants at risk.
Kimberley Paul, a Crestview Manor resident of four years who lives at the 52 Avenue apartment complex with her 13-year-old son, says she’s worried commonplace false alarms –often referred to as “malicious pulls” by firefighters – will lead to a “boy who cried wolf” effect.
“The problem is nobody runs out of the building because they all know it’s a false alarm,” said Paul in a recent interview with Yellowknifer.
“What happens the next time if it’s not a false alarm?”
Paul isn’t the only Crestview resident asking that question.
“Not one person ran out of the building while the alarm was blaring,” an exasperated tenant wrote on a popular community Facebook page following an early morning false alarm last week.
“Did we not have enough tragic events this past (year)? Time to up the consequences for (people) pulling false alarms!,” stated the online commentator.
After two false alarm responses to the same premise or building, property owners are fined $2,500 for each “subsequent response to a false alarm,” within the the calendar year, according to the City of Yellowknife.
Last Friday, according to Paul, the Yellowknife Fire Division (YKFD) responded to two false alarms at Crestview Manor in less than 90 minutes. Each time crews respond to an alarm, the building’s property representative is required to attend the scene.
The perpetrators pulling the alarms aren’t Crestview tenants themselves, said Paul, but rather friends of renters. She said alcohol-fueled spats between tenants and their friends often result in angry guests activating the alarm.
The City of Yellowknife has “recognized the issue with false alarms,” according to YKFD deputy fire chief Gerda Groothuizen.
“Some clientele in buildings are responsible for the malicious alarms by allowing friends and acquaintances into their buildings. The friends/acquaintances are responsible for most of the malicious alarms,” wrote Groothuizen in an email, noting the problem isn’t widespread among other property owners. “It’s always the same buildings that we respond to,” she stated.
When an alarm is pulled and there is no emergency — a criminal offence — Groothuizen said the fire department is “delayed in responding to any true emergency.”
Groothuizen, echoing Paul’s concerns, added recurring false alarms could cause residents to ignore real emergencies, putting themselves at risk while delaying firefighters, whose first priority is “getting everyone out of the building.”
“In the case of a medical emergency … minutes count,” she wrote. “A 20-minute delay may be the difference between life and death.”
The city began billing for false alarms — accidental, malicious and mechanical — in 2008. Last May, the third-response fine fee was upped to $2,500 as the “number of false alarms was not dropping,” but rising, according to Groothuizen.
YKFD responded to 171 false alarms in 2017, 33 per cent of which were malicious — 24 per cent were accidental. From January to November 2018, that number rose to 210. The amount of malicious alarms recorded last year is not yet available.
Groothuizen said the fire department is working with property representatives of hotspots for false alarms – who she said are “very frustrated” as well – to curb the number of malicious pulls.
If a perpetrator is caught, wrote Groothuizen, they will be fined. But in most cases, she stated, it’s difficult to determine who pulled an alarm. Some property representatives, stated Groothuizen, have beefed up security as a response, increasing patrols and adding electronic covers to pull stations, along with cameras.
But Kimberley Paul says cameras installed at Crestview are not working. She said she’s requested working cameras in the building as a easy solution to determining those responsible for the malicious alarms but that her pleas to the property owner, Northview Apartments REIT, have gone unanswered.
“They say, ‘we’ll look into it.’ But nothing ever happens,” said Paul, who questioned why Northview wouldn’t invest in functioning cameras when being repeatedly hit with costly fines.
After repeated attempts, Yellowknifer was unable to reach Northview’s head office for comment but an employee who asked not to be named said cameras at Northview-owned properties often end up damaged and broken.
Housing First backs cameras
The Yellowknife Women’s Society-run Housing First program, a initiative to get homeless people off the street and into housing, saw participants move into Crestview Manor in 2016. The program houses clients in four buildings across town.
Lauren Gostick, team lead for Housing First, said she believes there are no functioning cameras in any of the buildings that house program participants.
The presence of working cameras in those buildings, including Crestview, could be “really beneficial for everyone involved,” said Gostick. Along with identifying those causing the false alarms, cameras could also deter other unwanted behaviour, including violence and trespassing, she said.
A number of devastating fires shook Yellowknife last year, including the massive Rockhill blaze that displaced dozens of families, and the fatal house fire that claimed the life of Andrew Degoborski three days after Christmas.