Fire chief warns of costly ‘prank’ calls

Published 4:13 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Apparent prank calls targeting businesses have cost thousands of dollars in clean-up expenses and down time.

Clanton Fire Chief David Driver said Clanton Whataburger was the victim of a call in which the caller purports to be a representative of a fire suppression company.

The caller instructed a Whataburger employee to manually activate a fire suppression system as a test. When the system was activated, food was ruined and cooking surfaces made temporarily unusable, forcing the closure of the restaurant until the situation could be corrected.

Driver said the local eatery was struck in the early morning hours of Feb. 6.

“It made a terrible mess,” Driver said and added that Clanton Fire Department officials visited the scene later in the day. “I didn’t think a whole lot about it until I learned that this had also happened at their Alabaster store. Then, I saw on the news that it had happened in Tuscaloosa.”

“My main thing is, we’ve got a lot of businesses around here that have these hood suppression systems. If it’s the fire department or the fire suppression company, we’re going to come out to your business. We’re not going to call you and tell you to do anything over the telephone.”

Driver said the restaurant was closed while being cleaned, and while the fire suppression company set up the system again—a total of about eight hours.

The system is designed to self-activate in the event of a kitchen fire, but it can also be triggered manually.

Driver said the call was made from a blocked number, so he was not sure if there was any way to proceed with a criminal investigation into the incident.