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Jefferson plagued with false calls

August 15, 1997

By CLYDE FORD

Staff Writer, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County Emergency Services Director Darrell Penwell calls it the "cry wolf syndrome."

When a home fire alarm or burglary alarm goes off, there's an almost certain chance that it will be a false alarm, Penwell said.

Penwell asked the Jefferson County Commissioners on Thursday to look for ways to fight the problem, possibly by billing homeowners for false alarms, which other localities have done.

In 1996, there were 1,702 false alarms caused by burglary alarms and fire alarms, Penwell said.

Only six of the alarm calls were actual emergencies, Penwell said.

So far this year, there have been 997 total alarms and only five have been actual emergencies, Penwell said.

The culprit in false alarms is usually a homeowner who does not know how to use the system properly, Penwell said.

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Some of the false alarms have involved motion detector sensors with the settings set at a too sensitive level, Penwell said.

In one case, a bee flying inside a home triggered the false alarm when it set off the motion sensor, Penwell said.

Nearby lightning strikes can rattle windows, setting off alarms that are triggered by windows being broken. Sometimes power outages also can set off the alarms when the electricity is restored, he said.

The false alarms pull the police and firefighters away from their other duties and can keep them tied up while actual emergencies occur, Penwell said.

Penwell said that in some areas, homeowners are charged a fee after more than two false alarms in a six-month period.

Penwell said he does not want homeowners to turn their alarms off when the alarms can help them in actual emergencies.

But he said that when fees are charged, homeowners might make sure the alarms are operating properly. In one area that has imposed a fee for false alarms, the number of false alarm calls dropped by more than 90 percent, Penwell said.

The county commissioners said they will consult with the county attorney to see what can be done.

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