MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 12, 2014

False alarms at Bacone seen as risky

Plague of fire alarms prompts firefighters union complaint

Responding to a high number of fire alarms at Bacone College presents safety concerns for students, firefighters and the public, according to a union complaint.

Documents obtained by the Phoenix show Muskogee firefighters made 340 runs to the college since Jan. 1, 2010, most of which were responses to false alarms. Each response requires manpower to operate four fire trucks and a command vehicle that respond to each call plus the time it takes to clear and secure campus buildings.

The situation prompted a complaint filed in February by a representative of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 57. The complaint, as outlined in the minutes of fire safety committee meeting, states the fire department runs are the result of  “students (who) are pulling” alarms, “smoking in the dorms,” and refusing to leave the buildings after an alarm has sounded.

The situation is seen as “a risk to all firemen making the runs” and presents public concerns when firefighter are “running red to get to these calls.” The extraordinarily high number of responses also exacts a cost on the fire department budget, but an amount was unavailable.

Fire Chief Derek Tatum described the situation as “a problem we will be trying to resolve” during an “internal meeting.” He said committee members will meet later today with Bacone College officials in an effort to develop an effective plan of action.

“It has deteriorated,” Tatum said about the number of fire department responses to mostly false alarms originating at Bacone College. “With each semester you have a new batch of kids who come in that you have to educate — it’s a problem, and we are trying to resolve it.”

According to statistics presented during a Feb. 25 committee meeting, the Muskogee Fire Department responded to 118 alarms at Bacone College in 2010. The number of runs fell to 84 and 47 respectively during the next two years. The number of responses escalated to 74 in 2013, and 17 had been recorded by Feb. 25.

City councilors passed an ordinance in February 2010 that assesses fees for false alarms that exceeded a certain limit. City Attorney Roy Tucker said the city cited “a number of entities that had excessive false alarms” after the ordinance took effect, and Bacone officials subsequently made improvements to its security system in an effort to reduce the number of false alarms there.

“The issue now is not that the alarms are not working, now we have some malicious activity that is going on,” Tucker said. “We do have other ordinances that prohibit the pulling of an alarm, but the problem is identifying and finding the person who pulled it so we can issue a citation.”

Tucker said city and college officials met in October to address the problem. Since Nov. 1, firefighters have responded to about 30 alarms at Bacone, so they will attempt to develop a more effective plan.

“This is an issue we are taking seriously,” Tucker said. “They (Bacone officials) have a vested interest in resolving this issue just as we do.”

Mike Miller, Bacone’s senior vice president of institutional advancement, said the college, in an attempt to work with the city, has spent nearly “$100,000 to enhance our fire alarm system to correct the issue.”

“We are also cooperating with the city to strengthen our standards for student behavior in this area and to take appropriate action to deter future false alarm calls,” Miller said.

A Bacone representative will attend what Tucker said will be a closed-door meeting.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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