False alarms over Homecoming rack up over $22K in firefighter costs

Kingston Fire & Rescue and Queen’s University Campus Security and Emergency Services on scene at Victoria Hall, a Queen’s residence building, on the night of Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was originally published at 3:31 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023. Please see bottom of the article for the latest updates.

Every day, firefighters respond to what turn out to be false alarms. Most of the time they are happy if they arrive to find their assistance wasn’t actually needed – but not if the fire alarm was sounded deliberately for no reason.

And that displeasure is understandable: according to Kingston Fire & Rescue (KFR), the average cost for a response to a false alarm is approximately $1,600.

So when events occurring in Kingston coincide with a marked increase in false alarm calls, it ends up being an expensive waste of resources — resources that may ultimately be needed elsewhere.

Such was Queen’s University’s Homecoming Weekend 2023, which ran from Friday, October 20 to Sunday, October 22. As previously reported, the Kingstonist team noticed a marked uptick in KFR responding to fire alarms over the weekend, which was busy for first responders in more ways than one. For example, Victoria Hall, a Queen’s residence building on Bader Lane, had firefighters responding to two fire alarm calls in under half an hour on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023.

Having previously reported on the costs associated with false fire alarms — which cost KFR over $9,700 during Homecoming 2020 — Kingstonist reached out to KFR for more information on the spate of fire alarm calls the fire department responded to during the same event this year. Three years later, the costs for the same nuisance activity have risen by 130.9 per cent.

KFR said that, since they partnered with Queen’s in 2022 to create a video aimed at reducing the instances of false alarms, the local fire department has “seen a significant reduction in false alarms over previous years.”

“Unfortunately, this past weekend we experienced approximately 14 false alarms,” KFR relayed, referring to Homecoming Weekend. In fact, nine false alarms were generated at just two properties, the fire department shared.

And if each false alarm call comes with a price tag of approximately $1,600, that means the 14 false alarm calls over Homecoming Weekend 2023 cost approximately $22,400.

So how are those costs recouped? The answer is: they very seldom are, fully.

Under the City of Kingston’s ‘False Alarm Bylaw’ – “A Bylaw to Impose Fees for Automatic Alarms (False),” the property owner of a building where a false alarm occurs is charged $0 the first time KFR responds, $250 the second time they respond, and $500 for each additional false alarm response required in the same calendar year.

Further, the false report of fire is a criminal offence, and when KFR is aware of the identity of suspects in such a case, they refer the occurrence to Kingston Police.

“Often, Queen’s University Security work directly with Kingston Police,” KFR said. “We are unaware if any suspects have been identified or charges laid at this time.”

The maximum penalty for the false report of fire is up to two years in custody, the fire department said.

Kingstonist has reached out to Kingston Police to find out if any arrests or charges occurred in relation to false alarm incidents over Homecoming Weekend 2023, but no response was received by time of publication. This article will be updated if/when more information becomes available.

Update (Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, at 1 p.m.):
Kingston Police say they are “not aware” of any charges laid in connection with the 14 false fire alarm incidents that occurred over Homecoming Weekend, which ran from Friday, Oct. 20 to Sunday, Oct. 22, 2023.

“Police investigate all reports of false fire alarms and lay charges for these types of offences when applicable,” Constable Anthony Colangeli, Media Relations Officer for Kingston Police, said in response to Kingstonist inquiries.

Conlangeli indicated that charges for such offences may still be laid, but said that no charges related to false alarm events over Homecoming Weekend are currently on record.

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