Restrained response cuts dumpster arson
St. Louis has found a cheap and effective way to reduce dumpster fires, most of which are started by arsonists. The citys fire department responds to such fires on the quiet, meaning without using lights and sirens. Put into place in 1995, the on the quiet policy encompasses 19 types of calls, including dumpster fires, smoke detectors, sprinkler alarms, manual pull alarms, and fires involving rubbish or weeds.
The original intent of the policy was to reduce fire vehicle accidents, and, according to Deputy Fire Chief Frank Schaper, accidents have declined 35 percent since its inception. However, in addition to enhancing safety, the policy has produced an unanticipated benefit: a dramatic drop in the number of dumpster fires within the city.
City officials have determined that, in setting dumpsters ablaze, young arsonists crave the thrill of creating a ruckus; they enjoy seeing a fire truck speeding to the scene, lights flashing and sirens wailing, while all traffic stops to let it through. When the fire departments response is quiet, the arsonists act receives less attention.
Statistics appear to support that theory. For example, the city experienced 2,200 dumpster fires in 1994, the year prior to the policys inception. That number dropped to 1,745 in 1995 and fell steadily to fewer than 900 in 1998. The city projects slightly more than 700 dumpster fires this year.
Schaper says the policy has saved lives. No firefighters or civilians have been seriously injured or killed since the fire department adopted its restrained response. Furthermore, the decrease in fires has reduced fuel consumption, wear and tear on vehicles, and the need to replace damaged dumpster lids. For 1999, those savings could reach nearly $13,000, Shaper says.