August 2008 - Posts

Defiance, OH, Considers Fines for False Alarms

False fire alarms in Defiance, OH, could come at some cost to those who cause them.

City council's police and fire committee recommended during its recent meeting that fees or civil penalties be imposed for chronic false alarms emanating from the same device.

On another issue, the committee decided not to pursue legislation that would require smoke detectors in all residences. This topic has smoldered since being suggested -- but not acted upon -- 19 months ago by Fire Chief Mark Marentette.

During the meeting, Assistant Fire Chief Pete Schlosser said his department has handled nearly 70 false fire alarms this year. He said these have been generated by approximately 10 different properties.

According to Schlosser, each false alarm costs the department a minimum of $420 and as much as $758. This accounts for the expense of calling in off-duty personnel to man the station during the run.

Schlosser's solution: Council should establish a fee or penalty for the property owner after a third false alarm is generated within a specified time from the same device.

Although Schlosser said he was not prepared at that time to propose a fee schedule for third strikes, he mentioned $350 with the amount increasing in $100 increments for subsequent violations. A one-year time frame for violations was discussed.

The police and fire committee, composed of At-large Councilmen Steve Hubbard and Ellen Upp and Ward II Councilman Larry Bryant voted 3-0 to proceed with the fee idea. Schlosser plans to propose a fee schedule at the committee's next meeting on Sept. 23.

But the committee turned down another suggestion: requiring functioning smoke detectors in all city residential properties.

According to Schlosser, "hard-wired" smoke detectors are required under state codes for all new homes. However, there is no such requirement for older residences, nor rental properties with three or fewer units.

Bryant questioned the proposal because, he noted, some tenants have a tendency to take batteries from smoke detectors and use them for other purposes.

Before the discussion went any further, city law director David Williams advised against legislation. 

Among other things, he said the city has adopted the state housing code, which doesn't require smoke detectors in all homes. This could create a potential liability problem for landlords, he added.

For example, a tenant could sue a landlord following a fire in a rental property, and it would be difficult for the owner to prove that a functioning smoke detector was installed.

Russellville (KY) Passed Alarm Ordinance

Russellville, KY, businesses which have numerous false alarms, causing either the police or fire departments to respond, will be facing a stricter city policy.

By a unanimous vote, the city council passed an ordinance that allows businesses to have five false alarms within a six month period before a notice of violation (NOV) will be issued.

If the false alarm problem persists, the ordinance calls for violators to be fined $25 for the first offense, $50 for the second offense and $100 for the third and subsequent offenses.

“We have to do something to stop this problem,” said Russellville mayor Gene Zick, who has been talking with both the city's fire and police departments who say they make several unnecessary calls for false alarms.

Police Chief Barry Dill said he calculated there are 30 to 40 false alarm calls per month.

Dill said he even had an officer hurt during one of the false calls, which required approximately $43,396 of medical care.

“A lot of the time businesses owners don't even show up when their alarms go off,” said Dill, “And we cannot always gain access to the property to turn it off. Owners will say if its not someone breaking in they aren't coming.”

Fontanta (CA) Sidesteps Courts; Re-Writes Alarm Law

Burglar alarms have become more of a hindrance than a help to police who are growing weary of responding to false alarms. 

The City Council meets Tuesday evening to adopt an ordinance that opponents claim would prohibit burglar alarm monitoring unless verified by ‘live’ video or audio. 

The Inland Empire Alarm Association says the ordinance is the “most extreme of its kind” ever created in the nation. 

The association’s vice-president Morgan Hertel says there’s a simple solution. 

“Middle ground could involve a model ordinance that’s been adopted by thousands of communities across the United States that allows for alarm users to co-exist and alarm abusers to be fined accordingly.” 

There are about 15,000 home and business alarm systems in use in Fontana.

CSAA Verification and Notification Procedures Standard Enters ANSI Review

The Central Station Alarm Association’s (CSAA) Alarm Verification and Notification Procedures Standard (CS-V-01) has entered an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) public review and comment period. The standard will be open for comment until Sept. 14. 

The CS-V-01 standard defines methods by which false dispatches can be greatly reduced. It is an update to the 2004 version and has been proven that verifying an alarm signal by a monitoring central station will drastically reduce false dispatches. This standard takes verification to its next level by defining multiple call verification, cross zoning, biometric, audio and video verification. 

A copy of the draft can be viewed here. To suggest proposal changes, click here.

MO Lawmakers Reject Mandatory Smokes in Care Facilities

Health officials say new fire rules for Missouri’s long-term care facilities likely won’t mandate smoke detectors in every room.

A deadly fire at a southwest Missouri group home in 2006 prompted lawmakers to require most assisted living, skilled nursing and residential care facilities to install sprinklers by the end of 2012. That law also requires complete fire alarm systems this year.

State officials are drafting rules to implement that law. The state fire marshal wanted to require smoke detectors in each bedroom.

But last week lawmakers rejected that proposal, saying it went beyond the law.

Now health officials must rewrite the rules regarding what makes a complete fire alarm system.

Venice, FL, Considers Alarm Registration, False Alarm Fines

The Venice, FL, police and fire departments will not cut staff, but Police Chief Julie Williams said, but the city will look into adding a alarm registration fee to generate income.

"We're at a point that we cannot absorb any more losses," Williams said.

She recommended charging a $25 registration fee to residents and businesses that have alarms and fining people after police respond to a third false alarm.

The city plans to explore cutting trash service from twice a week to weekly pickup.

The council will hold budget hearings Sept. 9 and Sept. 23.

Deadline for Alarm Permits Nears in Rocklin, CA

The grace period to obtain an alarm permit in Rocklin, CA, is about to end.

Beginning Sept. 1, any resident or business that has a working alarm but failed to obtain a permit will be subject to a $100 fine, the Rocklin Police Department has warned.

The city adopted an alarm ordinance April 11, requiring alarm owners to purchase a permit at $25 for the first two years. The cost for each subsequent two-year renewal will be $15. 

Sgt. Terry Roide said the ordinance was needed because his department responded to more than 2,700 alarms in 2007, and 99 percent of them were false.

"That's the equivalent of one police officer spending an entire year's time answering false alarm calls and doing nothing else," Roide said in April.

Each residence or business will be given one free false alarm response in a rolling 12-month period, which begins when the resident or business owner obtains the alarm permit. A second false alarm will result in a $50 fine, Roide said, while $100 will be charged for third and subsequent false alarms in the rolling 12-month period.

Information on how to obtain a permit can be found on Rocklin's city Web site at www.rocklin.ca.us.

False Alarm Ordinance in Effect in Wabash County (IN)

Wabash County (IN) Commissioners recently adopted an ordinance designed to encourage homeowners and businesses to use their intrusion-alarm systems responsibly.

Called the False Alarm Ordinance, it provides small fines for homeowners and business who have, in a 12-month period, more than one false alarm to which a Wabash County Sheriff's Department officer responds.

In seeking the ordinance, Sheriff Leroy Striker said, “When E-911 Dispatch receives an intrusion alarm call, whether at a business or residence within the county, we believe the call is valid and respond in an appropriate manner. My officers expedite their run believing there is someone breaking-and-entering the home or businesses.

“Our goal is to make homeowners and business owners responsible for calling us when they accidentally trip their alarm, and ensure these entities make their alarm company responsible for their alarm systems.”

He noted that the false alarm runs take officers from other duties, use gasoline, and involve the extra risk that always goes with an expedited patrol-car run. Too often, he said, the officer arrives to find the responsible party “accidentally tripped the alarm” but failed to so notify the department.

The ordinance also puts pressure on homeowners and businesses to see that malfunctioning systems get fixed.

The ordinance provides a fine of $25 for a second offense, $50 for a third offenses, and $100 for each subsequent offense.

By ordinance, the fines go into a special fund, from which the county council may appropriate money for “reasonable and necessary law enforcement activities.”

Watchung, NJ, Updating Fire Alarm Ordinance

The borough of Watchung, New Jersey's Fire Prevention, Fire and Police Departments are working together to amend a borough ordinance covering false alarms.

Fire Inspector Gary Greves said the three departments decided to update the existing ordinance, which he said has been in place for years.

The amendment will ask homeowners whose alarm systems are wired and monitored through the central police station to notify borough authorities when any work, particularly contracting work, is under way.

Greves explained that the amendment seeks to make sure residential fire, burglar, carbon dioxide or medical alarm systems are in good, working order.

A reduction in responses to false fire alarms will be also be a byproduct of the amendment for the borough's all-volunteer Fire Department, the fire inspector added.

"Painting fumes, sanding dust and power equipment are all potential alarm triggers," Greves said.

The amendment has had a first reading and a public comment period is planned for the community.

Upon approval of the amendment, educational outreach will be the first prong of the ordinance's enforcement.

"We would update and educate our residents through the fall newsletter," Greves said. Enforcement of increased penalties for false alarms would be the next step.

Slidell, LA, Looks to Toughen Alarm Law

A Slidell (LA) City Council member would like to see fewer false burglar alarms in the city and is working on legislation to beef up the current burglar alarm ordinance.

Councilman Lionel Hicks said not only are false alarms a waste of time and manpower for the Slidell Police Department, they are also a nuisance for some residents in his district.

Several months ago, Hicks said he got a call from one of his constituents on Pinetree Street who complained the burglar alarm for a business that abutted his back yard kept going off, waking up the man and his family. After some research, Hicks discovered police had responded to many false alarms at the business. 

Further research showed Slidell police officers were responding to a high number of false burglar alarms all over town.

“In the month of July, the police department responded to 450 false alarms,” Hicks said.

A former police officer with 30 years of service, Hicks said false burglar alarms have been a thorn in the side of Slidell police for a long time.

“Every false alarm ties up two units that could be out patrolling the streets,” Hicks said.

Plus, in these days of high gasoline prices, that costs the police department money in extra fuel costs, not to mention wear and tear on vehicles, he said.

“It’s always been a problem,” Slidell Police Department spokesman Capt. Kevin Foltz said.

Recently, Slidell Police Chief Freddie Drennan agreed that something must be done, and he backed Hicks’ plan to beef up the city’s current false burglar alarm law.

In the Slidell Code of Ordinances, under Section 12.1, paragraph e, a person can be fined up to $50 if the police respond to more than six false alarms. A letter of warning is sent to the alarm user if there are one to five false alarms in a calendar year.

Hicks would like to have the ordinance amended to mirror the St. Tammany Parish’s ordinance on false burglar alarms.

The parish ordinance, passed in May 2006, allows only three false alarms before any fines are levied against the alarm user.

Between four and five false alarms, there is a $25 fine, which goes up to $50 for six to seven responses to a false alarm and then $75 for up to nine false alarms.

If a business or residence has 10 or more false alarms, deputies will not respond. The fines and threat of no police response has had an effect.

The number of false alarms has decreased, according to Lt. Fred Escher of the St. Tammany Sheriff’s Office. He has been tracking the false alarms since the ordinance was passed.

“It has made a big difference,” Escher said. “Before the ordinance, we responded to a lot of false alarms, and we found most were due to mechanical errors.”

The Sheriff’s Office sat down with alarm companies to address problematical alarm systems and the companies agreed to fix the problems.

“They were very cooperative, and so were the alarm users. We’ve had great reception,” Escher said. “The ordinance has been a big asset to the Sheriff’s Office.”

He said the parish ordinance is modeled after a similar law in New Orleans.

Hicks said some false alarms are weather-related or due to power blackouts, but he and Foltz said most false alarms are due to operator error. Foltz said most false alarms occur in commercial sites where the employees have not set the alarm 
properly.

Whatever the reason for the large number of false burglar alarms, Hicks thinks it is time to hold people accountable, allow residents more quiet nights and let the police do a more effective job.

“We just have to put some teeth to our ordinance,” Hicks said.

Russellville (KY) Council Takes Time Making Changes to Alarm Law

The Russellville (KY) City Council is taking its time making decisions on some ordinances that will effect the citizens.

At Tuesday's meeting, council members noted they wanted to take their time and not repeat what had happened with the water meter deposit ordinance, which was revisited and changed repeatedly before being approved.

The two ordinances tabled Tuesday were amendments to current ordinances involving garbage, refuse and litter picked up by the city and regulating fire/police security alarm systems.

Mayor Gene Zick said he wanted to make sure any contractor working for a citizen to clean up their yard did not leave the debris on the street for the city to pick up. He said it was the contractors responsibility to dispose of the debris if they are being paid for the job.

One of the holdups to the ordinance was just how the council would define what a contractor is.

Other possible changes to the ordinance includes the size of limbs that can be placed on the side of the street for the city to pick up.

There is concern among the police and fire departments with the amount of false alarm runs being made.

According to Zick, both the fire and police departments are having to answer false alarms on the same businesses each month. Zick said he feels answering the false alarms takes time away from both departments in case a real emergency arises.

Councilman Jimmy Davenport was interested if either department had ever experienced the issue of needing to be at another call while answering a false alarm, but received no answer.

The amendment that was tabled would have allowed the city's Code Enforcement branch to place stricter penalties on those whose alarms continually go off causing the city to send its fire or police departments.

Councilman Chuck Phillips said he felt the maximum fine of $500 was too much and that a tier table should be implemented that would call for a smaller fine for first, second and third offenses.

Phillips also believed the city should call in these business owners and talk with them informing them of the cost before passing the amendment and just hitting them with it.

Code Enforcement Director Hope Strode said she always calls those who are sent notices of violation (NOVs).

“I don't just send out an NOV without calling to speak with the involved parties. I want to do everything I can before I have to fine someone,” said Strode.

The council will be revisiting both ordinances in the near future.

Councilman Lanny McPherson was absent Tuesday.

New Martinsville (WV) Council Tables Fire Ordinance Again

In West Virginia, the first reading of an ordinance to deal with false fire alarms and nuisance fire alarms was tabled at the motion of New Martinsville Councilman Keith Nelsen during the city council meeting Monday night.

The move came after Nelsen engaged Fire Chief Larry Couch in a lengthy and somewhat heated discussion about the matter during the department heads’ meeting prior to the council meeting.

Couch had proposed the measure at the July council meeting, but it had been tabled because it had only been received back from City Attorney Carolyn Flannery’s review that day.

Nelsen asked Monday that it be tabled for another month so the committee can meet and discuss the measure. The committee concerning the fire department is chaired by Councilwoman Holly Grandstaff with members Casey Corliss and Joel Potts. Potts voted against tabling the item.

The ordinance will impose fines after repeated false fire calls due to faulty alarm systems.

“I just think it’s the wrong thing to do. That’s what you’re supposed to do,” Nelsen told Couch. “You’re supposed to respond.”

The fire chief said his department does respond to all calls, but said the ordinance with its accompanying fines “would encourage them to keep their alarm systems in repair.”

“I think it would encourage them to turn them off,” rebutted Nelsen.

“Responsible companies will keep them in good repair and irresponsible companies will pay,” said Corliss.

The New Martinsville Volunteer Fire Department responded to 70 false alarms last year. Without looking at the statistical data, Couch said he could not break those numbers down, but said the most frequent offenders are West Virginia Northern Community College, New Martinsville Health Care Center, and New Martinsville Towers.

“I think these people owe our fire department and police departments the respect of keeping them in good repair,” said Couch. Occupants, obviously, should be another concern. The fire chief said the New Martinsville Towers recently had a fire in one of its units’ kitchens and the alarm system did not even identify it.

Couch said the ordinance allows for so many false alarms in a time span. “They would need like seven responses to be fined $250,” said Couch. “We don’t fine them until way down the line.”

Nelsen feared entities would be penalized for accidental alarms for incidents such as children falsely pulling an alarm.

Such incidents, said Couch, would not be counted in the allowance before fines. “It is not geared toward accidental alarms. What we’re looking at is a fire alarm system malfunction,” he said.

“I think you have been more than patient with these folks,” said Councilman Steve Pallisco. Couch said at times when the fire department responds to false calls they are actually laughed at by the employees of the business with the faulty alarm.

He also has concern for the safety of his volunteers and the public when responding to a false call. Any time a person or unit is responding to a call there is a risk for automobile accidents.

Regular city council meetings are held the first Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m. The department head meeting, held in council chambers and open to the public, begins at 6:30 p.m.

Palestine, TX, Refuses Response to Unregistered Alarm

Daniel Bowman considers himself to be a lucky man, and an angry one.

Bowman, whose wife owns El Natural Bakery and Deli at 1900 W. Oak St., found himself Friday morning in the middle of a struggle with a would-be burglar and with City Hall over an alarm policy.

The alarm company for the bakery called about 5:55 a.m. Friday with the news that the shop’s back door appeared to be open and that when it contacted the Palestine Police Department, it was told that the police would not be responding because the Bowmans had not registered the alarm with the city.

So Bowman quickly dressed, jumped in his pickup and drove to town, arriving about 15 minutes after the alarm company had called. As he approached the bakery, he could see the back door swung open, he said, so he parked on the side and walked in, expecting the building to be empty by now.

It wasn’t.

Instead, Bowman surprised a man behind the counter where the cash register normally sat, clutching $25 in his hand.

“We don’t keep money in the store at night but we had a late sale, so there was $25,” Bowman explained.

For an instant, time seemed to stop long enough for Bowman to size the man up and realize he had no weapon and was slightly smaller than the 62-year-old Bowman.

So instead of allowing the man to flee, Bowman said he stepped forward, determined that the man was not leaving. He tried to pin the man down and call 9-1-1 but the man knocked the phone out of his hand, sending the batteries flying one direction and the handset another.

When the man tried to flee to the door, Bowman pulled it closed and shoved the padlock in place, locking both men inside. The struggle continued until Bowman pushed the man to the floor near another phone and was able to dial police to tell them what was happening.

Three squad cars arrived within two minutes, he said, and took the man, identified as 30-year-old Carlos Cesar Vidal, into custody, charging him with robbery and interfering with an emergency phone call, and also with burglary of a building at the Taqueria Mexicano Grill nearby on Palestine Avenue, where a 42-inch television set was reported missing by owner George Hernandez.

He considers himself to be a lucky man, Bowman said, since he escaped the encounter sore but unharmed. 

It’s the alarm policy more than the attempted burglary which has left him fuming.

Since Jan. 1, the City of Palestine has required commercial businesses to purchase a $10 annual permit to register their alarm systems with the police department as a way to reduce the number of false alarm calls police were receiving. 

In a story published Dec. 15, 2007, police chief Larry Coutorie and Det. Nick Webb explained that the department had responded to hundreds of false alarm calls from local businesses, taking officers off the street while they responded, checked the building and tried to reach a keyholder to come turn off the alarm. Police would no longer respond to alarm calls from commercial businesses which did not purchase the permit.

However, the Bowmans were unaware of the policy since they had purchased their system only recently, Bowman said, and no one from the local alarm firm had mentioned the required permit.

“If I’d been a business where they’d been there 10 or 15 times on false alarms, I wouldn’t be here (to complain),” Bowman said. “That’s not the case. We’re very careful on that. We understand that crying wolf is a terrible thing.”

He made it clear that he puts no blame on the police for following procedure, and added that the officers who did respond to his phone call were professional and courteous.

Instead, Bowman said he thinks the ordinance should be changed to allow an officer to be sent the first time an unregistered business has an alarm call and that officers should have a permit form in their cars to give to business owners like himself, to either sign off that they are now aware of the requirement and plan to register their alarm or to sign that they refuse to do so.

“We sit and watch the news, we read the newspapers and we see our society and our culture fractured before our eyes with the violence and crime. It’s not just here, it’s everywhere,” Bowman said. “The police we have have a terrible job to do. They need our support.

“But this kind of policy of non-responding only erodes the respect and support they need.”

When asked about Bowman’s situation, city manager Dale Brown said that the ordinance had not been written with the intent to keep police from responding to legitimate calls, only to reduce the high number of false alarms caused by setting the alarms to be too sensitive.

In addition, Brown said, the 9-1-1 tape of the conversation between the alarm company representative and the dispatcher apparently contained few details, other than the business’ back door was open.

“The intent is not, obviously, to ignore situations like this when they happen,” Brown said. “It would have helped to have had more information from the alarm company.

“The intent of the alarm ordinance was that police were being called out hundreds of times for no reason.”

Instead, Bowman’s idea for remedying the problem is something to think about, Brown said, as is the possibility of requiring alarm companies to notify customers.

“It’s a very good suggestion,” Brown said. “We’ll look at it.”