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False fire alarms at Indiana University

By Scott Tibbs, July 1, 2015

Many who have lived in the dorms at Indiana University can recount horror stories of being woken up in the middle of the night and forced to march outside, regardless of weather, because some joker thought it would be "funny" to pull the fire alarm. One week when I was an undergrad, the fire alarm was pulled three times. By the third time, very few people bothered to leave the building, despite the fact that the law mandated residents evacuate.

But this is not just a problem for students. This is a problem for everyone who lives and pays taxes in Bloomington, and this is something that needs to be considered in the 2015 city election. Examine the following statistics on fire runs and false alarms, courtesy of the City of Bloomington's Fire Department:

  • 2008: 532 fire runs - 321 false alarms
  • 2009: 581 fire runs - 318 false alarms
  • 2010: 619 fire runs - 371 false alarms
  • 2011: 624 fire runs - 362 false alarms
  • 2012: 642 fire runs - 361 false alarms
  • 2013: 657 fire runs - 385 false alarms
  • 2014: 686 fire runs - 360 false alarms

Here is the problem for city taxpayers: When a fire truck is at a false alarm, that fire truck is not available to respond to a legitimate fire, which could increase response time or dilute resources needed to fight a legitimate fire. Fire runs waste gasoline and man hours, as well as putting wear and tear on the vehicles. Any time a large vehicle like a fire truck is called out, there is also an inherent risk associated with that run.

Both the city council and the mayor need to seriously think about this issue and whether Indiana University is paying its fair share given how many resources from the city go to providing fire protection to the campus. IU is exempt from paying property taxes, so it pays an annual fee to the city for fire protection. But is that fee large enough?

The university needs to be a good neighbor as well, and that issue needs to be addressed by both the city council and the mayor in private and in public. This means that the university needs to show it is making a good faith effort to cut down on false alarms, punish students who are caught pulling the alarm fraudulently, and improve security (including the use of security cameras) to prevent false alarm "pranks" from happening.

With the increased focus on city government this year, and no other races on the ballot competing for the voters' attention, now is the perfect time to address this issue.