May 2013 - Posts

Court Ruling Renews Call to Reimburse Lowell, MA, Landlords

A recent court ruling that the Lowell, MA, cannot force certain property owners to purchase one type of fire-alarm system has prompted a renewed call for the city to find a way to reimburse those owners required to install wireless alarm boxes.

Fire Chief Edward Pitta has in recent years been ordering owners of buildings with 13 or more residential units to install the new wireless system because the city plans to decommission the telegraph-wire alarm system.

A Housing Court judge ruled early last month that the city instead must allow owners of buildings to install any of the four alarm-signaling systems the state Building Code allows.

City Councilor Rodney Elliott has filed a motion for Tuesday's council meeting requesting that City Manager Bernie Lynch provide a report on ways the city could financially assist property owners forced to buy the wireless system provided by one vendor, East Coast Security Services of Salem, N.H.

He says the alarm system some property owners were forced to install was more expensive than other options those owners should have had, like a central-station that provides notification of alarms to the city's dispatch center.

Elliott pointed to the fact that East Coast was charging $2,475 per wireless box when there were other alarm-system options that cost at least $1,000 less.

Paris, TX, to Crack Down on False Alarms

The revised Paris, TX, alarm ordinance is scheduled to go into effect June 1, and Police Chief Bob Hundley said the businesses who have been most problematic with false alarms have not yet complied with the new regulations.

LA Fire Marshal Fining for Unlicensed Activity

Louisiana State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning would like to encourage homeowners to be vigilant in making sure that those selling these systems are properly licensed through his agency.

Two recent incidents involving unlicensed security alarm employees underscore this concern.

Browning stated that in response to complaints from the Hammond Police Department regarding numerous security salespeople going door-to-door in several Hammond subdivisions, Fire Marshal deputies were dispatched to ascertain whether the salespeople and their company were licensed.

Subsequently, eighteen unlicensed individuals were located and fined in the amount of $500 each, with an additional fine of $1,000 being assessed to the supervisor of the employees. 

The second incident involved a complaint by a councilman in Tallulah who contacted the State Fire Marshal’s Office after a person knocked on his door attempting to sell a security system. 

Deputies from the Licensing Section of the Fire Marshal’s Office responded the next day and made contact with two unlicensed employees. Each of the unlicensed individuals was fined $500 each for their actions.

Anyone having questions or concerns about an alarm company or individuals attempting to sell systems can contact the Office of the State Fire Marshal, Licensing Section at 1-800-256-5452.  

Lowell, MA, Appeals Court Ruling

Despite a Housing Court judge's ruling that Lowell, MA, can't force building owners to install just one of the four state-approved fire-alarm signaling systems, it has no plans to amend that practice.

It's also appealing the court's decision on the grounds that the case on which the Lowell ruling was based isn't relevant.

Northeast Housing Court Associate Justice David Kerman's ruling in favor of Princeton Properties mirrored a similar situation in Springfield, which had an ordinance that mandated the installation of city-approved radio boxes. The Supreme Judicial Court invalidated that ordinance, saying property owners should have the option of using any of the four systems allowed under the state Building Code.

Lowell officials maintain that decision shouldn't apply here, because the city's situation involves the interpretation of the state's Fire Code, a subsection of the Building Code.

That code requires buildings with 13 or more units have an automatic-notification fire-alarm system approved by the municipality fire chief.

Legalese aside, Lowell's and Springfield's situations are virtually identical. In both cases, a property owner objected to being told what state-approved alarm system to use. In Lowell, that meant installing a wireless alarm system provided by just one vendor, East Coast Security Services of Salem, N.H.

Berlin, VT, Considers Alarm Ordinance

The Berlin, VT, Select Board is considering letting the town’s police and volunteer fire departments charge an escalating fee for responding to calls that turn out to be nothing.

In a move designed to recover the expenses of dealing with what they described as an inordinate number of false alarms, Fire Chief Miles Silk Jr. and Police Chief Bill Wolfe both urged the board to enact an ordinance similar to those in some surrounding communities.

Greenville, NC, to Fine for False Alarms

An ordinance approved on first reading by the Greenville, NC, Board of Mayor and Aldermen would mandate that owners face a fine the third time in any given month that their home or business is the source of a false alarm.

Lower Macungie Township, PA, Passes Tougher Alarm Ordinance

A tougher new law aimed at reducing false fire alarms may be passed in June in Lower Macungie Township, PA.

That ordinance allows up to three false alarms in a 12-month period before anyone has to pay a fine. The proposed change would allow only one penalty-free false alarm every six months.

Also, now no one can be fined more than $300 for exceeding the allowable number of false alarms. “In theory, it could be a dollar or it could be $299,” said Reis.

The proposed change will make it a set fine rather than a sliding fine, with different penalties for homes and businesses. Township commissioner Roger C. Reis explained the fine will be $150 per incident for residential structures and $300 for commercial structures.

Cornelius, NC, Alarm Ordinance as of June 1

A new Cornelius, NC, False Alarm Reduction Program begins on June 1, which means fines for repeated false alarms.

The registration fee is $10 a year with a renewal fee of $10 each subsequent year. The registration fees are waived for residents who are 65 years or older.  The registration period began on March 1, 2013. Fines for false alarms will be assessed beginning June 1, 2013, on a tiered system as follows:

False Alarms 1, 2: No charge for registered alarms
False Alarms 3, 4, 5: $50 per response
False Alarms 6, 7: $100 per response   
False Alarms 8, 9: $250 per response
False Alarms 10+: $500 per response

Enhanced Call Verification Now Law in Georgia

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed enhanced call verification into law on May 6.

The Georgia Electronic Life Safety & Systems Association, with an assist from the Security Industry Alarm Coalition, had been pushing for ECV for years and finally saw it brought to fruition with House Bill 59.

Judge: Fire Department Can't Limit System Choices

A Housing Court judge in Lowell, MA, has ruled that the city cannot force building owners to install just one of the four types of fire-alarm signaling systems allowed under state law.

The judge's determination comes as Lowell's fire chief has in recent years been ordering owners of buildings with 13 or more residential units to install a new wireless alarm system.

Northeast Housing Court Associate Justice David Kerman made the ruling in a decision dismissing complaints the Fire Department had filed against Princeton Properties of Lowell for failing to switch three of its properties off the telegraph-wire fire-alarm system.

The telegraph-wire, or "Gamewell," system is approved under state law, but the city has been planning to decommission it, so it directed Princeton and other property owners to install new alarm systems at their buildings.

At two properties the city filed complaints against, containing hundreds of residential units, the city ordered Princeton to replace the old system with a new wireless alarm system provided by one vendor, East Coast Security Services of Salem, N.H.

But in dismissing the complaints against the two residential properties, as well as one of Princeton's commercial properties, Kerman ruled that municipalities cannot restrict property owners to using just one of the four fire-alarm signaling systems that comply with the state's Building Code.

"Allowing a city to narrow an owner's options would sanction the development of different building codes in each of the Commonwealth's 351 cities and towns, precisely the result that promulgation of the State Building Code was meant to prevent," Kerman wrote in his April 4 decision.

In his decision, Kerman referred to a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling last year that invalidated the city of Springfield's fire-alarm ordinance.

Fairfield, CT, Fire Chief Wants to Curb False Alarms

As the Fairfield, CT, Police Department did nearly 20 years ago, the Fire Department is weighing a policy designed to cut down on the number of false alarms in town.

Fire Chief Richard Felner told the Fire Commission last week that he is considering a false fire alarm policy for town, and has been talking to the Police Department officials to see what they have in place.

Maryland Law: 10-Year Lithium Batteries in Smoke Detectors

Maryland is the most recent state to require that battery-only operated smoke alarms be equipped with sealed-in, 10-year lithium batteries. The new law takes effect on July 1, 2013.

Clark County, OH, Sherriff Discusses False Alarms

While the Clark County, OH, Sheriff’s Office believes alarm systems are beneficial to deterring and stopping crime, they need to be able to recoup more of the cost of false dispatches.

The hurdle they face is the Ohio Revised Code, which caps fines at $150 for the fifth false alarm. The cost of paperwork coupled with the actual response of the deputies — two per alarm call — doesn’t make that charge cost-effective, Sheriff Gene Kelly said.

“What we choose to do is go out, talk to the business, the homeowner, see if there are any recommendations we can make with their alarm company to improve the service and not have false alarms.”

There’s no clear-cut way to solve false alarms but law enforcement agencies agree alarms do help catch criminals and can deter crime. “We want alarms, and alarms do work, and they’re a vital part of law enforcement today,” Kelly said.

Cheyenne, WY, Proposes Stricter Alarm Ordinance

A proposed amendment to help reduce the number of false alarms in Cheyenne, WY, was presented to the City Council recently.

Currently, when there is an alarm signal, the central station calls the police and then the alarm owner. The amendment would require the company to call the alarm holder first.

Another proposed change is graduated fees for repeat false alarms. After the second false dispatch, an alarm administrator with the department would send a letter to request a written response about what was done to fix the problem and warn of a fee.

The third response could result in a $100 fee, followed by a $200 fee for the fourth and a $400 fee for the fifth. On the sixth response, the alarm holder’s permit could be revoked. If revoked, officers won’t respond to the address for alarm activation unless there is a verified crime or a panic or hold-up alarm.

The permit may be reinstated if the person shows they’re trying to fix the problem.

Atlanta, GA, Plans to Amend Alarm Ordinance

According to Hans Utz, Atlanta’s deputy chief operating officer, Atlanta police responded to 65,000 false alarm calls last year and 92 percent of those were false alarms, representing 6 percent of all 911 dispatches and representing a cost of 12 full-time police officers’ time.

To remedy the situation and even raise some revenue for the city—possibly $1-$2 million—the city plans to amend the existing False Alarm Ordinance  based on the Georgia Association of Police model - developed by the Security Industry Alarm Coalition - adopted by a number of peer and neighboring cities—including Charlotte, Louisville, Marietta, Cobb County and Sandy Springs.

Johns Pass, GA, Extends Deadline for Alarm System Registration

Businesses and residents in Johns Creek, GA, just got an extension to sign up with the city until August or perhaps September to register their alarm systems. The original date was June 1.

In an effort to reduce the cost false alarms, the city passed an ordinance spelling out the penalties for continued false alarms. The primary fine sets in if police answer a call to an unregistered alarm system.

The ordinance had been due to take effect next month, but City Manager John Kachmar told the City Council May 6 that would not be practicable.

The city has chosen a vendor, Cry Wolf, to administer the ordinance and collect the fees, but the contract still has not been released by the city's legal department for council's signature.

"The holdup has been selecting the vendor who then must offer the city a contract for approval. Once that is done, the vendor will be sending out notices to tell residents and businesses how to register their alarm," said Mayor Mike Bodker.

Summit County, UT, Prioritizes Dispatches; Fines for False Alarms

Summit County, UT, burglar alarm owners may be faced with a fee for too many triggered false alarms.

"It's something we should probably talk over with the sheriff to see if it would be something that would make sense," Summit County Councilmember Roger Armstrong said.

The Summit County, UT, Sheriff's Office announced in February that it would no longer respond to unverified burglar alarms, citing insufficient deputies.

After discussions with local alarm companies, however, the Sheriff's Office recanted the decision, opting instead to continue responding to verified and unverified alarms through 2013, but with unverified alarms given a lower priority.

Lincoln, NE, Looks to Duplicate False-Alarm Reduction Success

Lincoln, NE, police and residents are safer after the number of bogus burglar alarms plummeted by more than half over the past decade.

Lincoln Fire and Rescue hopes to duplicate the Police Department's success when it next checks statistics. Firefighters went out on more than 2,000 fire calls last year, including some 1,180 false alarms, Fire Chief John Huff said.

The City Council voted in August to start charging business owners and residents $100 after three false fire alarms and $250 after eight.

The department’s not trying to get money, Huff said, but he wants to charge people for making false reports and spare his crews from zipping around when they’re not needed.

“The fewer times we do that, the better,” Huff said. “Every time we do that, we put ourselves at risk, and we put everyone else between here and there at risk.”

Impact of False Fire Alarms

False fire alarms are costing Lincoln, NE, residents as much as $250. The City Council voted back in August to start fining for false alarms.

When the fire department responds to a false alarm it can cost hundreds of dollars, but money isn't the only concern.

"Typically when an alarm does come in, we're going to treat it as a real fire. And we're going to go lights and sirens across town at times and it does add a lot of potential for vehicle accidents," said Cory Schmidt, Grand Island Fire Department Chief.

PSAP Consolidation in St. Louis Metropolitan Area

The Central County Emergency 911 Board, which currently provides fire and emergency medical dispatching services for western St. Louis County and portions of Franklin County in Missouri, has approved contracts to provide fire and emergency medical dispatching services to two departments now served by the North Central County Fire Alarm operation.

According to recently signed contracts, the city of Berkeley Fire Department and the Community Fire Protection District will switch to Ellisville-based Central County on Jan. 1, 2014. Berkeley and Community are the first in what is expected to be a move to Central County by most or all of the operations North Central has been serving.

Due to financial pressures, North Central has announced plans to shut down Oct. 31.

Dunwoody, GA, Passes Alarm Ordinance

The Dunwoody, GA, City council members recently approved an ordinance that holds people financially responsible for false alarms.

"The program will work on a two-strike system, and when the third false alarm comes from the same source, there will be a $50 fine. The fine could get as high as $500 with multiple counts," said Bob Mullen, spokesman for the city of Dunwoody.

ESA-backed Bill Calls for Background Checks for Alarm Professionals

In an effort to protect families and businesses from convicted felons, violent criminals, and sexual predators, U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-3) today reintroduced legislation that would allow professional installers of emergency and security alarm systems and monitoring security personnel access to federal background checks before hiring potential employees.

Summit County, UT, Sheriff Will Respond to Alarms Through 2013

The Summit County, UT, Sheriff's Office will continue to respond to burglar alarms for the remainder of 2013 after it had initially announced they will no longer respond to unverified alarms after March 1.

After several meetings with the Utah Alarm Association, the date was pushed back to May 1 until the sheriff's office recently announced a decision to continue burglar alarm response for the remainder of the year.

"For the rest of 2013, we're going to continue to respond to alarms the way we have been, and then see what the County Council decides to do with us in 2014 and readdress it then," Sheriff's Captain Justin Martinez said.