Did you ever hear that saying about not yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater? Or have you ever wondered whether those rumors that pulling the fire alarm could land you in jail were true? That is something my fellow law students and I wondered when the fire alarm went off during class yesterday afternoon. I thought that made for the perfect opportunity to do a little research into what the consequences are if you pull a fire alarm "just for fun," or when you know there is no fire.
As it turns out, in Texas at least, you can go to jail and have to pay fines for false alarms. According to Section 42.06 of the Texas Penal Code, any person that "knowingly initiates, communicates or circulates a report of a present, past, or future bombing, fire, offense, or other emergency that he knows is false or baseless" has committed an offense. This offense is classified as a Class A misdemeanor.
A person found guilty of a Class A misdemeanor can be punished by: a fine not to exceed $4,000; a jail term not in excess of one year; or both jail time and a fine. These are pretty serious punishments, and if the person has repeat misdemeanor convictions or felony convictions the consequences may be larger. This offense will also go onto a person’s criminal record and could affect many aspects of your life.
The crime can also be worse than just a misdemeanor. If the false report is of an emergency involving a public or private institution of higher education the offense would then become a state jail felony. A false fire alarm on the campus of LCU would then be considered a felony. If a person is found guilty of a state jail felony they face at minimum 180 days or maximum two years in jail. Fines are also increased to a maximum of $10,000 in addition to confinement. Just like with a misdemeanor, if a person found guilty of a state jail felony has other prior felony convictions these punishments may be more severe and the offense could even become a third degree felony.
Falsely reporting any type of alarm is not only illegal it can also be incredibly unsafe and very expensive to take care. If the fire department has to respond to the incident and shut off the alarm, it can cost a lot of money and might prevent them from responding to an actual emergency situation. If there is an emergency situation, you should definitely sound an alarm and if necessary dial 9-1-1 for emergency assistance, just don’t do it as a joke or just for fun. Very few students can risk facing these type of real-life consequences just for a small prank.
And, in case you’re wondering, there was no fire at the law school yesterday, just a short in the electrical system that caused the alarm to go off.