Perhaps you heard our Fire Department responding to an alarm at our school last evening. It happened during the clean up of our Family Night Bingo - which apparently had nothing to do with the alarm.
Our alarm company had just completed two full days of cleaning and inspecting each and every smoke and heat detector in the school building (and there are many of them!) and we suspect something they disturbed or adjusted caused the false alarm. They are still in the process of updating the system and a few parts needed for the control panel are "on order." We hope there are no system malfunctions in the meantime. Still, only hours after the alarm company completed its work and packed its equipment, we had a false alarm - costly to the Borough and now to the parish.
Surely a peculiar aspect of the current alarm systems, from a consumer's point of view anyhow, is their sensitivity. In medicine, we would wonder if a biological testing system were worthwhile if it gave too many "false positives." The language is simpler in firefighting, "false alarms." Almost every older parish has a history which includes a fire in one or more of its buildings, especially its churches, so the benefits of monitoring seem unquestionable. But more than once we have been told that "dust" was the cause of a false alarm. "Don't know" is often a runner-up to "dust" as an explanation.
Alarm systems for the church and the school are now mandated by law and each system is often proprietary, which makes changing the monitoring company problematic, whether for economic reasons or poor customer service. Our rectory, for example, was mandated to have a fire alarm system when it was used for public purposes, e.g. meetings and parish office space. Within not too many years, the system became irreparable despite multiple visits of repair and maintenance persons from the alarm company, partly because the company "discontinued" our control panels. We finally just disconnected the system since the rectory is no longer used for public purposes and installed a few battery operated smoke detectors and CO detectors. It took sleuthing from our business administrator to discover years later, that we were still being billed monthly for a system that was no longer connected to the monitoring station!
The dilemma with these systems is that once a sensor triggers, it is very difficult to verify whether or not it is a false positive before cancelling the automatic call by the alarm company to the local fire department. Our apologies to the Borough. The parish expends a great deal of time and no small cost to maintain and monitor our alarms - you'd think they would be dependable. We are trying our best, given the current technology and our resources to make it so.