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Fire chief: Stop, check before you report a fire

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Covington Fire Chief Jerry Craig said he's tired of false alarms. 

"We'll average two to three a week," he said, "somebody will call 911 and report a house fire wherever. Dispatch tones us out for a structure fire." 

When dispatched to a structure fire outside of the city limits, another shift has to be called in to ensure the city's residents are covered too. 

There are now two shifts on the clock, one in emergency vehicles with sirens screaming as they make their way to the reported fire. 

"We get there and the family's cooking in the backyard," Craig said. "Or we'll go by and there's a brush fire that a farmer's burning out in the field. The farmer's standing out there with a dozer and everything." 

These incidents are not emergencies, he notes. 

"The problem is they're so interested in calling 911, but they don't stop to see actually what's going on. We busted in on ain't no tellin' how many families cookin' supper in the back, that's all it is, there's no fire." 

It's a mistake that costs taxpayers  thousands of dollars each year. 

"It costs about $800 to $1,000 every time this happens. You have to maintain a crew in the city at all times."

Each crew consists of 8-10 firefighters. 

At an average of two or three each week, false alarms could cost the fire department alone up to $156,000 this year.

This isn't just a problem in Covington, either. 

"It's an ongoing problem, it's just getting worse. We had two in one night down at Baker bottom. Jimmy Wood had an old house trailer he was burning right there on the side of the road – you could see it, he had everything there – and someone called it in as a house fire, that somebody was in the house. There wasn't nobody in the house." 

Craig wants to draw attention to the problem, which he said can be attributed to the growing number of cell phones in use. 

"We didn't have this problem before cell phones," he said. "Now we have these calls all the time." 

He said the false alarms are putting firefighters', emergency medical crews' and deputies' lives at stake as they try to respond to a situation that isn't an emergency. 

"It's useless, all you gotta do if you see something on fire is think about the people; get out, check if there is somebody inside the house if it's a house on fire. They're not interested in doing that, they're just interested in getting on that cell phone to call 911."

Craig urges people who believe something's on fire to make sure it's an emergency situation before automatically calling 911. 

It only takes a minute and it could save thousands of dollars every year. 

"Stop and see if that family needs help," he said, "then you know that house ain't on fire. It is really creating a problem for us. We're paying on-duty firefighters time-and-a-half after 11 p.m., then we're paying eight to 10 other people time-and-a-half for at least two hours plus the fuel that we burn. It's ridiculous when all they gotta do is stop and check. It just flies all over me."

 
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