High Rate of False Fire Alarms Plagues Denver

Hotels, hospitals and large apartment complexes create most false alarms

The hospital has spent about $1.3 million since 2003 updating its alarm system, said Al Davis, senior director of facilities management.

He said the hospital also launched an in-house education campaign that, among other things, identified steam from microwave popcorn as a cause of false fire alarms.

Children's Hospital on East 19th Avenue, which cut the number of false fire alarms from 61 in 2001 to seven last year, also upgraded equipment and expanded its safety education program.

In addition, the hospital installed plexiglass covers over fire alarms that will alert employees first when pulled.

"It stops the kids from messing with them," said Scott Connell, the hospital's safety manager.

Summoned to court

The fire department doesn't recover its costs for responding to false alarms, but it does go after repeat violators who refuse to fix faulty systems.

Since 2003, between 94 and 108 property owners with nuisance alarms have been summoned to court, records show.

The fire department also has an internal enforcement program. If an alarm system is problematic, the fire department can require the company to pay someone to guard the property.

"If we have a system that's not operating to our satisfaction, we require them to have a fire watch," which is a person working around the clock guarding the property, Mitchell said.

If it's an occupied, high-risk building, Mitchell said, the person guarding it could be a firefighter, costing the property owner between $32 and $37 an hour.

"If we have a complicated system, a large building . . . we'll have fire prevention personnel there, and that's $60 an hour," he said.

A fire watch at the former Regency Hotel off Interstate 25 cost the property owner $60,000.

"We ended up shutting them down," Champagne said. "They couldn't come under compliance."