December 2009 - Posts

Firefighters Prepare for Carbon Monoxide Detector Law in New Hampshire

Firefighters in the Conway, NH, area are helping businesses and people prepare for New Hampshire’s new carbon monoxide detector law that takes effect Jan. 1.

The new law requires that rental units of any kind, even hotels and motels, be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors as well as smoke detectors.

Conway Fire Chief Steve Solomon tells WMWV-FM that most leaks of the potentially deadly, colorless and odorless carbon monoxide are caused by improperly maintained heating appliances.

North Conway Fire Chief Pat Preece says 1,500 people die every year in the United States from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Both firefighters are urging people to have their heating systems checked every year and ensure the vents are clear, especially after storms.

Windsor, CT, No Longer Monitors Fire Alarm Systems Due to New Code

Windsor, CT, dispatchers will no longer be monitoring fire alarm systems at nursing homes, hotels, motels and similar high-density occupancies under a change adopted by the town council Monday night.

The amendment to the town's fire protection code, adopted unanimously by the council, requires that those alarm systems by linked to an approved central monitoring system at the property owner's expense. 

Fire Marshal Robert Bolasevich said that the change was necessary because dispatchers at the Windsor Public Safety Complex can no longer handle the demand of modern alarm systems given the press of other duties and the fact that their equipment is outdated and becoming increasingly unreliable. 

The town's fire code requires monitored fire protection for occupancies of 25 or more persons. An estimated 50 to 60 properties are affected by the change. Many have already begun switching over to private monitoring and the change should be fully implemented by early April, town officials say.

Lincoln, NE, Looks to Beef Up Alarm Ordinance

Every year, Lincoln, NE, police respond to more than 3,000 burglary alarms, but only a handful of them turn out to be true emergencies.

In 2007, one Lincoln store alone generated 37 false alarms. Banks, car dealerships, home improvement stores, fast food joints and pet stores have frequent false alarms.

But when the alarm goes off and police are notified by a security company, they have to go full-bore, with lights and sirens, even if they've been there 36 times before. At least two squad cars respond, taking them out of service for real emergencies.

"It's always dangerous for officers and citizens alike when a police officer is responding in an emergency condition," Lincoln Police Chief Tom Casady said.

That's why city leaders are proposing to beef up the city's false alarm ordinance -- which is lenient compared to most cities -- with higher fines for repeat offenders. The ordinance would also allow the city to begin charging a fee when alarms are registered with the city.

The current ordinance, enacted in 1982, allows four false alarms without repercussion. Five or more are misdemeanors with $25 fines.

"We're quite a bit more liberal than Omaha," Casady said. "I don't know of anyone that is as liberal as us."

Omaha is tougher on frequent criers: They get one freebie and then pay a $100 fine for the second and third false alarms, and $250 for any more. Omaha's tough ordinance seemed to have a ripple effect on Lincoln, which saw a drop in false alarms beginning in 2003, after Omaha enacted its ordinance.

Under an ordinance proposed by Councilman John Spatz, a home or business can have six "free" false alarms in two years, but for each one after that there is a $100 fine. The fine increases to $250 after 15 false alarms. Homes and businesses whose alarm systems require a police response also would begin paying $50 a year to register their alarms.

The ordinance also would change the fines to fees, so that rather than going to the school district, as required by the state constitution, the fees would go to city coffers to help offset police costs.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held during the Monday City Council meeting, which begins at 3 p.m.

Spatz said he worked with business owners for months to reach this compromise; they preferred a higher registration fee to hefty fines. His goal is to reduce the number of false alarms and help the city defray its costs.

"The general public is paying for it right now," Spatz said. "The goal isn't to raise money; the goal is simply to keep whatever money is raised."

Some cities have stopped routinely responding to alarms and only respond if a representative on the scene has confirmed the need for police.

Lincoln's number of false alarms has dropped from a peak of 4,848 in 2007 to 3,279 last year, but Casady would like it to drop more.

"I think it could still be reduced more without sacrificing our ability to catch burglars in progress," he said.

This summer, police began working to cut down on false alarms by talking to business owners about properly training staff to arm and disarm alarms.

"We're trying the velvet glove along with the iron fist," Casady said.

Holly, MI, Updates Alarm Ordinance

For the last two weeks, the Holly, MI, Police Department has been visiting all commercial businesses within the village of Holly, and speaking to owners with regard to recent updates made to the village’s False Alarm Ordinance.

Adopted in 1982, the original ordinance has changed, requiring all commercial businesses having alarm systems to register their business with the village offices. The registration process includes gathering important information that could be helpful to the police and fire departments in the case of emergencies, including alarm types, and any hazardous materials that may be on the premises.

The information being distributed by HPD informs business owners that there is a penalty for false alarms reported to the police department. Effective in January, commercial businesses will be allowed one false alarm per calendar year. Subsequent faulty alarms will come with a mandatory penalty of $50, and false alarms after that are charged a $75 fee.

Exceptions to the false alarm penalties include storms or weather conditions that activate the alarm, alarms activated by persons working on the alarm system with prior notification given to the police department, and alarms that have been activated by disruption or disturbance of telephone lines or other communication systems.

Businesses will receive notification from the police department, outlining the date and time of the false alarm, and what if anything, the responding officer found that may excuse the payment of the false alarm fee. Within 10 days of receipt of the alarm notification form, the alarm user shall return the completed form to the police department. If one of the extenuating circumstances has not been met, then the business owner will be required to pay the fee within 20 days to the village offices.

Failure to pay false alarm fees constitute a misdemeanor and persons violating the payment provisions shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $500, and/or imprisonment for up to 90 days.

Police responded to 230 false alarm calls in 2007, 169 false alarms in 2008, and to date, have responded to 154 false alarms this year.

Frisco, TX, Approves Alarm Ordinance

Frisco, TX, Police Capt. Darren Stevens told the City Council that each false alarm costs the police department about $119 in manpower and resources. Based on the 7,400 confirmed false alarms last year, that's $880,600.

The numbers served as the introduction to the city's new alarm ordinance, which the council passed unanimously last night. The new ordinance, detailed here, updates technical standards, modifies definitions and establishes some new fees.

"This is a good step in getting a handle on this [problem] before it grows," Stevens said.

Those with alarms will have to pay an annual permit fee of $35 (up from $25 in the previous ordinance). Permit holders will also be charged for excessive false alarms, which vary in number depending on the type of alarm and type of permit. One permit holder had 104 false alarms last year, Stevens said.

In addition to the new ordinance, the council also approved a contract with PMAM Corporation for Alarm Management Services to manage the city's alarm permitting program. The company already has contracts with Richardson, Allen, McKinney and Houston. The contract will be funded with a percentage of revenue generated from fees.

Stevens said the company is expected to increase the number of permits and reduce the number of false alarm responses by police, thereby saving money for the city. "This is a very good option for us," he said.

Sioux Falls, SD, Considers False Alarm Fees

Bogus burglar and hold-up alarms in Sioux Falls, SD, are becoming such a nuisance for the Police Department that city officials might start charging a fee for responding to repeated unfounded reports.

It's a daily occurrence and, according to Officer Greg Schmidt, false alarms have been a problem in Sioux Falls for a long time.

"Our city is growing, and we continue to get more alarm users every day, so it's something that's going to increase in numbers as we grow in size," Schmidt said.

Police department officials are working to draft an ordinance designed to slash the number of false alarms. Details haven't been finalized, but officials plan to introduce a fine system, Schmidt said.

"We are hoping to get (false alarms) cut to a point that we don't have officers sitting at businesses when they could be out doing other calls, so calls don't stack up," Schmidt said.

On Aug. 8, for example, there were 14 false alarms.

Those false alarms add up to wasted time and resources. At least two officers respond to a burglar or hold-up alarm, and they treat each one like the real thing. For some calls, they must wait for an owner or employee to arrive to disarm the alarm.

And officers often must return to the same address multiple times. Addresses with more than one false alarm this year accounted for more than two-thirds of the bogus alarm calls.

Since 2005, officers have responded to 79 false alarms at Outback Steakhouse on Carolyn Avenue. That number represents the most false alarms of any single business, according to an Argus Leader analysis of police log data.

The restaurant's management referred questions to Joe Cato, an Outback spokesman. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Some cities already charge businesses and residents that rack up multiple false alarm calls in an effort to recoup the lost time and officers' effort.

Greensboro, NC, Eliminates False Alarm Fee

Until recently, a false burglar alarm going off in your home more than five times could cost you $50 in Greensboro, NC, but residents concerned about the increase in burglaries and robberies convinced city council to wave that fine.

Denise Turner, Assistant City Manager, said that city council wanted residents to feel comfortable calling for help if they needed it.

"They didn't want there to be any deterrent to residents of sounding an alarm if something looked suspicious or if they had a concern of something being in their home." said Turner.

Greensboro police officials disagree. Anita Holder, Assistant Chief, said by waving this fee, it could cost the city money and their officers time.

"In general if we have to respond to an alarm call and then wait for a representative to respond, we're talking 15 to 30 minutes." Holder said.

Last fiscal year there were more than 12,000 false alarms,and only 82 valid ones. With the fines in place, the city of Greensboro collected more than $190,000.

Police officials feel there still needs to be a price attached to false alarms, and they're asking city council both to reinstate the fee and consider an increase.

Turner says false alarm fines will be on the agenda when the new city council members come on board.