50 fire alarms a year: What do the Berkeley firefighters think?


Fire alarms are a notorious part of Berkeley High School, bringing fire trucks blaring to the scene each time. According to Interim Deputy Fire Chief Keith May, BHS averages 50 fire alarm calls to the Berkeley Fire Department (BFD) each year. The high rate of calls to the BFD due to false alarms or pulls can lead students to wonder: are firefighters sick of responding to BHS calls?

The answer to this question?

“No,” said Dolibor John, an Apparatus Operator for the BFD, “(fire alarms are) what we deal with, it’s our job.”

Fire alarms are reported to the Berkeley Dispatch Center in several different ways. Large amounts of heat and smoke detected on campus send an automatic notice to the dispatch center, fire alarms can be pulled, and 911 can be called.

Because of that, “It is hard to differentiate most of the calls at Berkeley High as it relates to fire alarms,” said May, “We have had some small fires like in the bathroom trash can, and we have responded to quite a few medical emergencies too.”

While BHS does average a high number of fire alarms, “In general, (BHS is) the same as any other fire alarms in the city that we respond to repeatedly,” John said.

For example, the BFD frequently responds to calls from the University of California, Berkeley campus and other populated areas of Berkeley. Thus, Berkeley High causes “little impact to our department when looking at our total volume of calls that we receive in the City of Berkeley, (as) we average 16,000 calls per year in the City of Berkeley,” said May.

Additionally, “Berkeley High in particular does a good job of identifying what the problem is and solving it,” said John.

However, fire alarm pulls prevent the BFD from being available to respond to other calls, which can have negative consequences for the broader Berkeley community.

 “When prank calls happen anywhere in the city, it takes fire and medical resources away from true emergencies,” said May, “We do not condone prank calls as it takes resources away from actual emergencies.”

At the end of the day, fire fighters are here to help.

“Responding to Berkeley High School for any emergency is why we are here and it is what we do,” May said.