January 2009 - Posts

New Hampshire Considers Carbon Monoxide Detector Mandate

A New Hampshire lawmaker who began work last summer on a bill to mandate carbon monoxide detectors in new homes is even more determined after a Salem man died during last month's ice storm.

Rep. Suzanne Laliberte, a Democrat from Enfield, began working on her bill in June when a father and son from her town died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The bill would require detectors to be installed in all homes built after Jan. 1, 2010, and all homes that are sold after that date.

In Salem, Alexander Conca died after his furnace malfunctioned during the ice storm. Town fire marshal Jeff Emanuelson believes that a carbon monoxide detector would have saved the man's life.

Fruitland, OR, Moves Forward with Alarm Law

The Fruitland, OR, City Council agreed to send its false alarm ordinance to public hearings for a final review.

The ordinance creates fees for “misuse of alarm systems” to reduce an excess of false alarms in the city police have to respond to. According to the ordinance, the fees go into effect after police have to respond to two alarms deemed to be false in a calendar year. According to the ordinance, the third false alarm yields a $25 fine, the fourth a $50 fine and the fifth a $75 fine. Property owners with more than five false alarms will be fined $100 each.

The fire life safety review fees generated the only discussion by the council. At the previous City Council meeting, the board agreed an ordinance establishing fire life safety review fees should be written based on Oregon’s code.

While Oregon only requires fire life safety fees on commercial and industrial businesses that meet certain size and occupancy requirements, Fruitland council members agreed, after some discussion, any commercial or industrial developments should be required to have a fire life safety review with a fee of 20 percent of the building permit cost. 

City Administrator Rick Watkins pointed out builders in Fruitland are not assessed fees for building plan reviews to begin with, and the ordinance only addresses fire life safety for commercial and industrial. “If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right,” he said. “And if (a fire life safety fee is) going to break them, they weren’t going to make it anyway, especially if you’re getting a free plan review.”

Pinellas Sheriff's Office Looks to Develop Alarm Ordinance

In Florida, the Pinellas Sheriff's Office is taking the first step in the review of a proposed ordinance which is designed to help reduce the number of false alarms in the Sheriff's jurisdiction.

The ordinance would affect homeowners and business owners-operators in the unincorporated area and in those cities where the Sheriff provides law enforcement services.

The Sheriff's Office will ask the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners for approval on Tuesday, Jan. 20, to have ordinance advertised for public hearing and review.

The ordinance would require homeowners and business owners with a security alarm to register the alarm with the Sheriff's Office. There is no registration fee. Under the plan, the registered home or business owner gets two free passes if their alarm is activated twice in error. The third false alarm of a registered owner incurs a $75 fine which increases with further false alarms.

The fines are greater for non-registered alarm owners. There are no free passes. The first false alarm incurs a fine of $175 which increases to $200 after four false alarms. The fines increase from there.

According to Sheriff Jim Coats, "The alarm ordinance is part of our on-going effort to run our organization more efficiently."

"When you think that a deputy sheriff can spend an average of half an hour at each call, that time adds up," Coats said. "We would rather not fine anyone, but the purpose of this ordinance is to work with the public to better manage this false alarm issue."

If approved, the alarm program will be assigned to the Sheriff's Crime Prevention Unit, and the public will be given ample time to learn more about the program and register their alarm systems.

Maine Considering Mandatory CO Detectors in New Homes

Each year, an estimated 150 Mainers are hospitalized for accidental carbon monoxide poisoning and the odorless and colorless gas has killed five residents in the past several years. These are numbers one Maine senator would like to see decrease.

Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham is working on a bill that would require all new homes or home additions in Maine to have carbon monoxide detectors. He said the bill is currently being written and expects to present it to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee by early February.

Diamond said he began looking into such a requirement after a father and son from Windham died from carbon monoxide poisoning nearly two years ago while using an alternative heat source after power was disconnected to their home. 

“We’ve discovered this is a requirement we can provide to hopefully save lives,” he said. 

Carbon monoxide detectors cost between $30 and $40 and are easy to install, Diamond said. He said he has not heard any opposition to the idea and will try to keep the requirement on a “common sense level.”

“I have [a detector] in my house,” he said. “If someone’s building a house, it doesn’t even come up on the screen in terms of percentage of cost.”

Sanford Fire Marshall Peter Cutrer said carbon monoxide detectors are inexpensive and easy to install in homes. Detectors can be purchased at any hardware store and installed by simply plugging into wall outlets, he said. Cutrer suggested people look for a UL-listed detector and, if possible, purchase a model with a digital readout. 

Cutrer said he has been meeting with other fire inspectors to discuss pursuing requirements that every home in Maine be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. Newer homes are “airtight” compared to older homes, where the air changes every couple hours, he said. When air is not circulating toxic chemicals can build up over time and cause illness, he said.

With high heating costs in recent years, many Mainers are using space heaters and wood pellet stoves, which fire officials said have created some safety issues.

“The main concern is unvented space heaters and wood pellet stoves that aren’t install correctly,” Cutrer said. 

A woman in Sanford was sickened by carbon monoxide after a wood pellet stove was installed improperly to vent inward, Cutrer said. She was awakened in the middle of the night by a carbon monoxide detector, but went back to bed after assuming it was malfunctioning, he said. The woman called 911 the following morning when she exhibited symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, he said.

Cutrer said this situation is an example of why people should not ignore detectors – for carbon monoxide or smoke – when they sound. If a carbon monoxide detector does go off, he said all residents should immediately leave the home, close doors behind them and call 911 from another location. 

“Most of the time people feel their carbon monoxide detector is malfunctioning. They should take it seriously,” he said.

Biddeford Deputy Fire Chief Scott Gagne said the department averages a couple carbon monoxide related calls per month during the heating season and responded to 20 total calls in 2008. He said the main problem the department sees is improper use of generators during power outages.

“If you’re going to run a generator it should be quite a distance from the home,” Gagne said. 

People should avoid putting generators in garages or entryways or against the house because “fumes can travel quite a distance,” he said. 

South Portland Fire Department Deputy Miles Haskell said his department has responded to multiple carbon monoxide calls this winter, including one where five people were transported to the hospital. 

On Dec. 7, South Portland fire officials responded to a call reporting two unconscious people. Unable to get in touch with tenants of an apartment, visitors looked through the window and saw them lying on the floor, Haskell said. Responding crews found two tenants unconscious and three others with high levels of carbon monoxide exposure, he said. 

Haskell said a malfunctioning heating unit caused a build up of fumes in the two-family home, which did not have a carbon monoxide detector.

South Portland Assistant City Manager Erik Carson said a program for residents has been established to provide carbon monoxide detectors to homes at or below the median income. He said 30 households have requested more information or submitted applications for the detectors, which will be delivered by the fire department.

Carson said $2,500 of Community Development Block Grant funds has been designated for the program this year. He anticipates distributing at least 50 detectors to South Portland homes and continuing the program next year.

When carbon monoxide is present in a home, young children, pets and people with medical problems are the first to show symptoms, Cutrer said. Most detectors sound at 70 parts per million, though affects of exposure can begin at 36 parts per million, he said. Symptoms of low-level exposure include headache, fatigue and shortness of breath, he said. 

Cutrer said healthy adults can usually tolerate up to 100 parts per million before feeling affects of exposure, though by 200 parts per million headache, fatigue and nausea set in. Exposure to carbon monoxide levels at 400 parts per million can be severe and cause death, he said. 

“All it takes is a simple boiler malfunction or device that stops working properly and people can die,” Cutrer said. “It’s pretty serious.”

Georgia requires new homes to have carbon monoxide alarm

Georgia has declared war on the "silent killer."

All new one- and two-family homes and townhomes will be required to have at least one carbon monoxide detector, according to state law.

"The builder is responsible, and city and county inspectors will be looking for it," said Ted Miltiades, director of construction codes for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

There are already similar rules regarding smoke detectors. But most Georgia homes still do not have carbon monoxide detectors, and many people aren’t aware that they need one.

Odorless and invisible carbon monoxide gas is called a "silent killer." It’s created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal and propane don’t burn completely, and is a major hazard in winter when people burn fuels to stay warm.

Inside the human body, carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin, impairing the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. It can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide exposure is a leading cause of unintentional poisoning in the United States. The initial symptoms, headache and nausea, are often mistaken for the flu. People generally don’t suspect carbon monoxide poisoning unless they notice that their symptoms improve when they go outside.

And if they’re asleep when the gas leaks, they may be overcome by it and die, never knowing what happened.

That’s why having a (carbon monoxide) detector is so important. "You should put it near the sleeping area, in the general vicinity of your smoke detector," said Miltiades.

Hall County Fire Chief David Kimbrell said he thinks the new law is a good idea. "We get calls quite often regarding carbon monoxide, so this will be helpful," he said.

The carbon monoxide alarm can alert residents to evacuate the house quickly, before they get sick. Kimbrell said unlike smoke detectors, the carbon monoxide devices tend to respond only to carbon monoxide, so they rarely have false alarms. Anytime the signal goes off, residents should call 911.

"The fire department has more sophisticated monitoring equipment," he said. "We’ll come in and check to see if (carbon monoxide) is actually present, and we’ll try to find the source."

There are limitations to the new law. It does not apply to existing homes, nor does it cover apartments or mobile homes.

But Miltiades said the law can always be amended in the future.

"This is a big step," he said. "First we just had to get something on the books. Previously, Georgia had no law at all."

Kimberly King, spokeswoman for the Department of Community Affairs, said even if your home is exempt under the law, that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

"We’re hoping this will encourage people to go out and purchase (a carbon monoxide detector), even if they aren’t required to," she said.

Kimbrell said he hopes someday the fire department will be able to get grants to help people in older homes buy the detectors. The department already has a similar program to distribute smoke alarms.

Canandaigua (NY) City Council Passes Law to Fine for False Alarms

The Canandaigua (NY) City Council passed a new law that will bring in additional revenue: a fee to residents or business owners who have more than two false fire alarms per year.

But the excessive avoidable alarm law isn’t designed primarily to raise money, said Fire Department Chief Matthew Snyder. The goal, he said, is to reduce the number of false fire calls, which drain firefighter time and resources.

“If we’re busy chasing down a false alarm and get a real call, we’re going to be delayed,” said Snyder.

He said he hopes the fines encourage the owners of businesses and multi-family homes to prevent false calls. Snyder said 33 businesses have alarms that ring directly into the department; numerous others contract through a private alarm system. Those private systems eventually ring into the department, as well.

Given the number of avoidable alarm calls this year — caused by anything from a malfunctioning alarm to excessive cooking smoke — the city expects to take in $2,500 in 2009 from the fees. 
Following the third avoidable alarm in a calendar year, the city will charge the business $100. Any additional calls will be charged $150, said City Manager Kay James.

Bristol, TN, City Council Approves New Penalties for False Alarms

The Bristol, TN, City Council approved new penalties on false alarms that summon police more than three times a year.

Mayor David Shumaker was the only dissenter in the 4 to 1 vote, which amends the city’s present ordinance that penalizes those locations where electronic security systems activate falsely more than three times a month or eight times a year.

“If you have more than three false alarms a year there will be a fee,” Shumaker said. “I voted against it because the ordinance does not set the penalty amounts, and I’m kind of a stickler for having things spelled out in advance.”

Shumaker’s vote is not an indication of his opposition to the ordinance on the whole, he said. 

Council members have discussed penalty fees, such as $25 for the first violation – or, fourth time police are unnecessarily summoned – $50 for the second and $75 for the third. But Tuesday’s vote did not address fees.
The changes in the ordinance were recommended by Police Chief Blaine Wade and City Manager Jeffrey Broughton.

Last week, Wade said the current ordinance is “extremely lenient.” He also said police and fire departments in 2008 responded to 1,461 alarms, of which only 201 had “any significance.”

Shumaker said that “75 percent of folks who have alarm systems have no problem. It’s just a handful of folks who have problems with false alarms going off 30 or 40 times a year, so it’s those folks we’re targeting to get them to fix their alarms.”
He added, “It’s a never cry wolf thing.”

Zero-Tolerance for Commercial False Alarms in Chicago

Effective January 1, 2009, the city of Chicago's False Burglar Alarm program underwent some drastic changes. According to the city's Web site, there will be no more freebies. The old ordinance used to allow commercial burglar alarm users three false alarms per calendar year. 

A hearing date and time will now automatically be scheduled when a false alarm is logged and a citation is issued. 

Businesses will be allowed seven days from the issuance of a false alarm citation to pay the $100 fine to avoid the mandatory hearing appearance. 

Chuck Mishoulam, owner/president of Chicago-based Alert Protective Services, Inc., said the changes are not only sudden, but extreme. "It's pretty radical ... We're all a bit taken aback by it," Mishoulam said. "It's a big deal. People make mistakes, and come in and can create a false alarm--an employee, an owner, or whatever the case might be--and I think having the three free passes before was just a better way to do business ... You know there's a human factor involved here. It's not just an equipment thing ... so people have to have the ability to have some wiggle room to make a mistake. So the three free ones gave people enough warning to know, 'I've only got three of these things, so I should be careful.' But you hit somebody with a $100 fine and an administrative hearing and that all takes time for people." 

Security Industry Alarm Coalition executive director Stan Martin said that while the suddenness of the change was surprising, the excessiveness was not ground breaking. "It really is a matter of how the businesses react. They sure didn't, to my knowledge, contact anyone in the alarm industry. A little communication would have been good for everyone. It surely could have been handled better ... It's not unprecedented, though. L.A. doesn't give freebies." 

Chicago department of revenue deputy director Tina Consola said that the change was part of the city's new budget and has been a matter of public record since November, 2008. "It was a small part of a large number of changes that we made during the budget," Consola said. "The media had access to that and they focused on what they chose to focus on. Such issues as [automobile] booting and so forth." 

Consola said it was important to let alarm users know that a properly maintained alarm system will help them avoid future fines. "The ordinance also added new affirmative defenses. Because we feel it's important that business owners properly maintain their alarm systems and use licensed alarm contractors and have their alarms inspected annually ... If they can show that they used a licensed alarm contractor, and if they have proof that it was inspected within the last 12 months, that's a defense ... They always have the opportunity to dispute." Mishoulam said it is the alarm industry that will unfortunately pay in the long run by bearing the brunt of end user frustration. 

"The reverberations back to the alarm industry are going to be big in the fact that people are going to get angry at us," Mishoulam said. "I'm sure we'll have some angry customers for a while, but what can we do? I guess it would have been nice to talk about this before it was enforced." 

Consola maintains that the changes are positive. "I haven't received any feedback yet. We view it as an enhancement to the program," Consola said. "There's no longer a permit needed. Commercial users previously had to have a permit. So the permit requirement has been eliminated, which also eliminates the fine for not having a permit as a violation that the police issue. Although each ticket is now $100, we will no longer double it after the sixth ticket."

Massachusetts Now Requires Photoelectric Smoke Alarms in Every Home

A year and a half after our WBZ (CBS) exposed what could be a deadly delay in technology for smoke alarms the Massachusetts is now taking action. 

The state is changing the fire code to better protect you and your family. Officials say the decision is final and it's a decision that could save lives. 

A unanimous vote of the State Fire Board to require photoelectric smoke alarms in every Massachusetts home comes after the WBZ I-Team showed how the most common type of detectors, ionization detectors don't offer the best protection in smoldering fires which are some of the deadliest blazes across the country. 

As the I-Team's Kathy Curran reported, photoelectric smoke alarms are more sensitive to smoldering, smoky fires. An estimated 90 percent of American households, however, are equipped with ionization smoke alarms, which are better at detecting flames. 

Resource: Which Type of Smoke Detector Do I Have?

"Ionization goes off too late in smoldering fires and those fires occur while sleeping. The second reason is excess nuisance alarms which is the No. 1 reason people disable them," said Boston fire Dep. Chief Jay Fleming. 

In 2007, the I-Team put both types of smoke alarms to the test. In a smoky fire the photoelectric detector sounded the warning first. Then almost 17 minutes into the fire the ionization alarm finally went off. 

"The smoke was too thick," Fleming pointed out. "It was too late to get out of the house." 

Fleming has been researching photoelectric technology and battling for change for almost two decades. 

"I think if we were able to get the entire country to adopt this regulation we could save about 1,000 lives a year," he said. "I also think this is responsible for the lives lost in Lexington and Milton over the past months." 

"Our regulation has followed the science, and I believe we came up with the most comprehensive regulation that we could," said State Fire Marshal Steve Coan. 

The old regulation only required the more common ionization detectors, which work well in flaming fires. Now people will have to have a photoelectric and ionization detector or a combination unit in new and older homes. 

Smoke alarms should also be replaced every ten years.

Colorado CO Detector Bill Outlined

The death this week due to carbon-monoxide poisoning of a University of Denver graduate student following so closely the deaths of the Lofgren family and a Manitou Springs woman have The Denver Post’s editorial board thinking lawmakers ought to take action this session.

To this point, we’ve advocated personal responsibility. But given the inexpensive technology that makes detection of the colorless and odorless gas relatively simple, we think the Legislature ought to take heed.

We’ll publish our detailed thoughts on the matter in Friday’s Opinion section. Meanwhile, here’s some information about a bill being drafted that would require carbon-monoxide detectors in homes and rental units that is supported by incoming Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver.

Court, who represents the Denver district in which the Lofgrens lived, tells me that the proposal is meant to both put in place regulations that make Colorado safer, and to get the word out about carbon-monoxide poisoning and its detection.

“We really want to raise awareness,” Court says.

The legislation would require that carbon-monoxide detectors be installed in new homes, in existing homes that are being resold and in rental units and condos when a change in tenants takes place.

The requirement would have detectors be placed near bedroom areas in the dwelling.

Court says that facilities that are centrally served by heating and air, like high-rise units, wouldn’t be required to outfit every unit with detectors. Rather, monitors near the source of possible leaks that are wired to alarms that would be noticed by safety managers could suffice.

A “hold-harmless” clause is meant to prevent liability for owners and sellers in the case a properly installed monitor failed to save lives.

Attempts to pass legislation last year failed when fought by homebuilders, apartment owners and real estate agents. Court says the new language is meant to placate these entities.

Los Angeles Proposes New Alarm Ordinance

The Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee approved a proposed ordinance Monday that would require alarm dealers verify that homeowners had obtained a permit and paid a licensing fee prior to installing their system.

According to published reports, the ordinance, which is intended to help police fine violators of the city’s false alarm law, will now be forwarded to the full council for a vote.

Washington County (MD) Alarm Ordinance to Get 2nd Hearing

The Washington County (MD) Commissioners decided to hold another public hearing before voting on a controversial ordinance to regulate security alarm systems. 

The ordinance, proposed by the Washington County Sheriff's Department to cut down on false alarms, would impose fines when deputies are summoned by alarms for nonemergencies three or more times in one year. It would also require alarm system users to obtain permits, and pay a one-time fee of $30 for residential alarms and $60 for nonresidential alarms. 

About 99 percent of the department's alarm system-generated calls turn out to be false alarms, Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said. The department responded to about 3,200 false alarms in 2007 at a cost of about $96,000 in wages alone, he said. 

At a public hearing on an earlier draft of the ordinance in September 2007, several residents spoke out against it, including some who objected to the permit fee. At a subsequent meeting that month, the commissioners decided to put the ordinance on hold until it could be aligned with a similar, existing ordinance in the City of Hagerstown. 

Mullendore brought an updated draft to the commissioners' meeting Tuesday and said the Hagerstown City Council was expected to repeal the city's current ordinance and adopt the county's version after the county adopted it. 

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said because 16 months had passed since the public hearing, the county should hold another before voting on the ordinance, and Commissioners Kristin B. Aleshire and John F. Barr agreed. 

A date has not been set for the hearing. 

The other commissioners, Terry Baker and William J. Wivell, said they opposed the ordinance. 

Wivell said he supported fines for repeat false-alarm offenders, but not the permits, the registration fees or the creation of an alarm administrator position. 

"I mean, that is typical government where you institute fees and create additional positions, and that's not where I'd like to see us go," Wivell said. 

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said in the city's experience, an alarm administrator position was necessary to handle billing and correspondence with alarm users, whether or not permits are required. 

Mullendore said the permits would give the department quick access to information, such as the location of an alarm and how to contact the key holder, information that is sometimes not available from alarm companies. 

Baker said that instead of instituting fines or fees, the county should simply stop responding to a site after two false alarms in one year. He also said that because alarm systems deter crime, the county should offer rebates or incentives to alarm system users. 

"We have all these people that are losing their jobs," Baker said. "Probably a lot of the people that we'd be assessing these fees to have already lost their jobs, they're in dire need of employment, and now ... we're being asked to go and vote on this ordinance and just pick their pockets." 

Mullendore said refusing to respond after two false alarms could pose liability issues. 

Also up for discussion at the public hearing will be the amounts of any associated fees and fines. The proposed fines for residential alarm users would begin at $30 for the third false alarm within one calendar year and increase by $20 for each subsequent offense that year. For nonresidential alarm users, the fines would begin at $60 for the third false alarm within one calendar year and increase by $25 for each subsequent offense that year. 

Kercheval suggested Mullendore propose an alternative fee schedule with lower initial permit fees and higher false-alarm fines. 

In the proposed ordinance, signals would not be treated as false alarms if they are activated by severe weather conditions or other "acts of God," if they are activated during the first 60 days after installation, if all appropriate emergency agencies are notified of a test ahead of time or if the alarm company calls to cancel the alarm before police arrive. 

Residential alarm users older than 65 would be exempt from the permit fee and government entities would be exempt from any fees.

Sullivan County (NY) May Repeal Nuisance Alarm Law

In New York, Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff says putting up with nuisance burglar alarms is better than what he says would be a bad alternative.

Schiff told the Public Safety Committee of the County Legislature he supports a proposal to repeal a 1999 local law requiring, among other things, registration of alarms, and sets penalties for excessive false alarms.

“I feel very comfortable doing away with this. I don’t see, at this point, a major problem with it. My fear would be if people are getting fined for having the alarm, they may not turn them on. I prefer that they have them on.”

Schiff also said they are on to a practice of some experienced burglars, to ‘test’ a home alarm system, several times, before actually breaking into a home.

A new local law, with public hearing, would be needed, to repeal the 1999 law.

Auburn, WA, Considers Tougher Alarm Law

In 2007, 2,500 false alarms went off in Auburn, WA, with police officers responding to 1,800 of them, at a cost to the city of more than $550,000. And though the city received $35,000 from fines and first-time license applications, that amount was a relative drop in the bucket compared to what it was spending.

According to Police Chief Jim Kelly, the police response to alarms is often a code response, requiring a minimum of two officers, sometimes more, driving through the city with lights flashing and sirens on.

"The danger is that we don't know that it's false," Kelly said. "Every alarm is generally considered a real alarm."

Now the police department and the city attorney’s office are working to toughen the rules governing false alarms.

Members of the Municipal Services Committee picked over the latest draft of the ordinance Monday in Conference Room 3 on the second floor of City Hall.

"I think it's very important that free up to respond to other calls because they are not wasting their time responding to false alarms," said Committee Chair Gene Cerino. 

Here are a few of the many recommendations:

• A charge of $100 for each false burglar alarm, $200 for each false holdup, robbery or panic alarm. Without this provision, city officials say, the city would not be able to recover its losses.

While false alarm fees will ultimately be charged for every false alarm, during an initial education period the fee for a first alarm will not apply under the ordinance.

• Require the alarm companies to train all of their operators well enough to limit the number of mistakes. It would require all alarm users or alarm companies before they call 911 to make two calls – the first to the location of the alarm, the second a followup to a second line or a cell phone to try to get hold of somebody to determine whether the alarm is valid.

Kelly estimated 194 alarm companies would be affected.

• Installers of new panels would be required to incorporate new technologies into the control panels to cut the number of false alarms. The revision would not require a modification of existing panels.

• A $24 residential and commercial annual registration fee and $12 senior discount.

• Outsource administration of the alarm program to one company.

“Our current ordinance does not address our need to solve the false alarm calls,” Police Sgt. Larry Miller said in December about the highly-detailed, 24-page ordinance. “There are things in here that really help in reducing the false alarms.”