Local News

Raleigh Fire Department Alarmed by High Number of False Medical Alerts

Posted March 5, 2000 6:00 a.m. EST

— Every time an emergency call goes out, rescue crews respond --even if the calls are not exactly emergencies. Hundreds of medical alarms are coming from one building in Raleigh, eating up valuable time and resources.

Fire officials believe an increased number of calls from Glenwood Towers, an independent living facility located downtown, may be an indicator of a broader trend: that medical alarms are generating a growing number of unnecessary calls.

Medical alarms have increased in popularity in recent years. Gloria Mangum says she could not live without hers.

"You know, you can get so sick you can't say nothing all. You've got to pull the cord," she says.

The medical alarms may have a downside. TheRaleigh Fire Departmentis in the middle of a six-month study to determine if the devices have crews making an increasing number of unnecessary trips.

"We don't mind responding anytime or anywhere when we're needed. But calls that we have to respond to where you're not needed -- when you get there and other calls are going out like it -- yes, that is a concern of ours," says Fire Chief Larry Stanford.

In the past year Raleigh crews have responded to 579 calls at Glenwood Towers. A fifth of those calls came from medical alarms.

Steve Beam, executive director of the Raleigh Housing Authority, says this should not come as a surprise.

"It's a 14-story building... It's the equivalent of 14 blocks, because it occupies the whole block... So they're going to have a lot of calls," says Beam.

The question is how can you reduce the number of false alarms from medical alarms?

Dot King, who sells the systems, encourages clients to wear the smaller alarms on their wrists instead of around their necks so they do not roll over them in bed.

"I think that it would be less easy to activate the system when it's on the wrist. But most people tend to want to wear it around their necks," she says.

The fire department and the housing authority both agree the key is to better educate the people who use the medical alarms.

The fire department's medical alarm study will run through June.