False alarm

Dear Ace: Why is it that every time I turn around in Charlottes-ville some kind of emergency vehicle is blazing by me with sirens blasting? Is Charlottesville perpetually in a state of emergency or are our civil protectors siren zealous?—Ears Ringing

Dear Ringing: First of all, does Ace know you? You seem so familiar—the colorful diction, the omnipresent emergency vehicle siren that seems to follow you around. Why, surely you and Ace must have crossed paths at some point?

   But to answer your question, Ringing, no, Charlottesville is not perpetually in a state of emergency. And no, our civil protectors are not siren zealous. The problem, Ace has concluded, lies with Char-lottesville’s citizenry, which seems to seriously suffer from what can only be described as the “Cry Wolf” syndrome.

   In 2004, the Charlottesville Albemarle Rescue Squad was named the busiest volunteer Rescue Squad in America by Firehouse magazine. Not the best, not the biggest, but the busiest! To quantify that distinction, CARS responded more than 16,000 times to nearly 12,000 separate incidents. Breaking down that statistic,
on average, someone in our area
receives immediate medical assistance from CARS every 30 minutes, every day of the year.

   The Charlottesville Fire Department, your other cacophonous source of emergency sirens, reported 5,439 situations in 2004. According to Battalion Chief Doug McGlothlin, the percentage of actual fires is relatively low compared to the total number of calls and automatic alarms received by the department. So if you hear a fire truck, Ringing, you shouldn’t automatically conclude that there’s a fire. Were that the case, the County of Albemarle, the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia would be nothing but ash.

   To address the high number of false alarms, the Charlottesville Fire Depart-ment has recently changed its response protocol. McGlothlin explained to Ace that if the Fire Department is notified of an emergency by an automatic alarm, fewer trucks are dispatched to investigate the situation. But if smoke or fire has been reported through 911 services, the Fire Department will send out the full fleet of trucks. Insofar as it reduces the number of sirens, Ace imagines this new policy will be music to your ears.

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