Skip to content

False fire alarms up considerably in Cambridge in 2023

There were 1,111 false alarm calls in the city last year, up from 964 the previous year

The number of false alarms in Cambridge rose considerably last year, putting strain on the city's resources and prompting the city's fire department to consider ways to reduce the number of incidents.

Fire chief Rob Martin presented the Cambridge Fire Department's annual report to council last night, running through stats from the previous year's response.

What stood out for Coun. Helen Shwery was the number of false alarms logged last year, which jumped to 1,111 incidents from 964 in 2022.

Martin said they range from a pot left on the stove and burnt toast to mechanical errors in alarm systems and children pulling an alarm pull station in an apartment building.

Rarely do they occur in residential home, he said.

"When those alarms come in, there are times when we might think it's a false alarm but it actually turns out to be something significant so we don't want to just not go to those types of calls," Martin told council.

In terms of reducing those calls, it comes back to education, he added, noting the regular campaigns the CFD runs to alert residents about the hazards of leaving cooking unattended.

"It is obviously a strain on the resources."

Coun. Adam Cooper was alarmed by the year-end call volume, which doubled to 9,667 in 2023 when compared to 2020. 

In 2023, the city's fire suppression division consisted of 138 personnel working across four platoons on a rotating 28-day schedule. 

The number of medical and resuscitator calls jumped to 5,790 from 4,546 in 2022.

"Other response" was up to 1,137 from 807 in 2022 and 236 in 2022.

"This obviously accounts for a lot of this year-end volume total," Cooper said, questioning what it meant.

Martin said the increase in medical calls was partly due to an increase in population, but a trend seen across all emergency response divisions is a more "fearful and reactive" population in the wake of the pandemic.

As for "other response," Martin said that has more to do with an increase in outdoor fires.

Also up considerably over the previous year were "property fire/explosions/overpressure" calls, rising to 330 from 254 the previous year.

Last year firefighters in the city responded to 98 structure fires that resulted in over $9 million in property damage.

There was one fire fatality.

Property loss was up slightly over 2022, but there were five fewer fires in 2023.