Pulling a fire alarm as a joke is often associated with kids playing pranks. We tend to think these actions are mostly innocent and believe that nobody ever gets hurt. However, pulling a fire alarm or raising a false alarm is more than just a minor inconvenience. Emergency services, like firefighters and paramedics, respond quickly to alarms. A false fire alarm might waste emergency resources and cause panic.
When there is no fire or emergency, pulling a fire alarm is a criminal offense in Pennsylvania. In cases where the alarm was pulled as part of a prank, the authorities might exercise leniency in issuing charges. However, alarms are sometimes pulled with more sinister intentions, such as causing panic and diverting emergency resources from real emergencies. In either case, it is best to lawyer-up.
If you pulled a fire alarm and raised a false alarm without an emergency, you need to consult with an attorney. Our Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can help you through what is sure to be an intimidating and confusing time. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 today for a free case review.
Pulling a Fire Alarm When There Is No Fire in Pennsylvania
Fire alarms are everywhere. We often think of schools when we think of fire alarms since most of us had to experience fire drills growing up. However, nearly all public buildings are equipped with fire alarms. Any office building, retail space, or other building open to the public will usually have a fire alarm. While many alarms are designed to go off when they detect smoke, most buildings also have fire alarms that can be pulled to trigger the alarm manually.
In case of an emergency where a building needs to be evacuated, an emergency alarm absolutely should be triggered so people can get to safety. However, criminal penalties could be assessed if someone pulled a fire alarm knowing there was no fire or other emergency.
The key to pressing criminal charges in cases like this is the defendant’s intent. Prosecutors will need to prove that you knew there was no reason to pull the fire alarm and that you did so anyway. In some cases, the defendant mistakenly believes there was a fire or emergency when they pull the alarm, only to be proven wrong later. In cases of honest mistakes, criminal charges are unlikely. If you have been charged even though you truly believed there was a fire, call our Bucks County criminal defense attorneys for help.
Criminal Charges for Pulling a Fire Alarm in Pennsylvania
There is actually a specific criminal charge for falsely pulling a fire alarm. According to 18 Pa.C.S. § 4905, a defendant can be charged with false alarms to public safety agencies if they pull a fire alarm knowing there is no emergency. The law is somewhat broad and encompasses many different ways of raising a false alarm, and pulling a fire alarm is included as a possible criminal offense.
Under this statute, a person may be charged if they knowingly raise a false alarm for a fire or some other emergency, and the alarm is transmitted to emergency personnel. The emergency personnel may be an official organization or volunteers. Essentially, pulling a fire alarm becomes a crime once emergencies services are notified.
Modern fire alarms often notify emergency services almost immediately after a fire alarm is pulled. Basically, once the alarm is pulled, the conditions for criminal charges are met.
Generally, an offense under this statute is a first-degree misdemeanor and may be punished by a maximum of 5 years in jail. However, if the offense happened during some sort of state of emergency, and the false alarm caused precious emergency resources to be diverted away from another real emergency, you could be charged with a third-degree felony. Such a felony may be punished with up to 7 years in prison. Our Delaware County criminal defense attorneys can help you.
Why Is Pulling a Fire Alarm with No Fire a Crime in Pennsylvania?
Pulling a fire alarm is such a serious matter because it affects how our emergency personnel and other resources are used. While some might think it is funny to pull a fire alarm as a practical joke, that alarm might signal firefighters, paramedics, and law enforcement to rush to the supposed emergency scene. This is not only a waste of resources, but if there is another emergency, the resources that could have been used to help are wasted elsewhere.
In some cases, a convicted defendant could be required to pay back the money for the wasted resources as part of restitution. The more resources spent responding to a pulled fire alarm, the more expensive your case becomes.
This is also why the statute in Pennsylvania specifically states that criminal charges attach when emergency services are notified, not necessarily right when an alarm is pulled or triggered. If the alarm is switched off before emergency services are notified, you might be able to escape criminal prosecution. Our Northeast Philadelphia criminal defense attorneys can help you figure out what to do if you are accused of pulling a fire alarm.
Defenses to Pulling a Fire Alarm When There Is No Emergency in Pennsylvania
As stated above, a few specific conditions must be fulfilled before you can be charged with a crime for a falsely pulled fire alarm. First, you must intend to pull the fire alarm while knowing there is no fire or other emergency. You might have a valid defense if you honestly believed there was a real emergency. However, whether charges are dropped or dismissed may depend on how reasonable and realistic your false belief was.
In addition, emergency personnel must be notified of the emergency. In some cases, pulling a fire alarm does not immediately call emergency personnel. However, alarm systems that automatically contact the authorities are becoming very common. In any case, emergency personnel tend to be notified very quickly. The alarm or signal could also be a phone call about a false emergency. For example, you could be prosecuted for calling 911 and reporting a fire even though you did not actually pull a fire alarm.
Call Our Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorneys for Help
If you pulled a fire alarm and it turned out there was no fire, you might be in more trouble than you realize. Our Montgomery County criminal defense attorneys can help you defend yourself against unnecessary charges. Call The Law Offices of Lloyd Long at (215) 302-0171 today for a free case review.