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IzzyEng4

Fining for Excessive False Alarms

14 posts in this topic

I've been reading a lot of news lately the fire departments around the country are mulling to place fines in place for excessive false alarms to businesses and residential homes. This would follow along the same line as what police departments are doing.

When I was dispatching for both fire and police, there were multiple locations that we would receive activated alarms for. It seemed for the police, if it was the third or fourth time in a month, a fine letter would be processed and sent to the owner of the building (home or business) and would continue for a certain period of time. The whole theory is to force the building's owner to get the alarm company in to fix what ever problem that is causing the alarm to activate.

Now from a fire department side, I think this would be a good idea. How many times have you gone to a false alarm repeatedly at the same location?? What is done after it? Does the Fire Marshal follow up? I don't think this should be looked at as a revenue maker but more of a "hey get your alarm fixed properly". Obviously with malicious false alarms, we can have the offender charged and / or fined by the police. But what just about repeated false activations of monitoring alarms, ect.

What do you think?

Edited by IzzyEng4
sfrd18, PEMO3 and wraftery like this

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Repeat false alarm locations have a hidden dangerous and detremental effect on the fire service both career and volunteer. When a location becomes know as a "regular" for burnt toast or alarm malfunctions members subconciously take a laid back approach to response. In some cases response may be slightly slower with the feeling "it just granny burning her toast again" or volunteers may not leave work or get out of bed until they hear the job is a "worker". That "it's never a real job at 123 xyz street" slowly starts to eat at the response needed for a proper initial response. When the day does come that the job is more than a malfunction or "burnt toast" that initial attack is going to be delayed because the property owner was not proactive correcting the situation and the department was not effective in forcing that correction.

EmsFirePolice and firemoose827 like this

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Town Of Bedford has the capabillity to fine repeat offenders, they are supposed to get a alarm permit as well with all the contact info ie keyholders set up with alarm company, It is all part of the alarm ordinance, the Chief has to indicate in his report he gives to town every month who needs to be fined, We also have a Knox Box Ordinace for both Commercial and Gates in Town Homeowner has option of putting one in for his home , Gates and Commercial are mandatory.

The Town does go after them plenty of people have gone to court and ended up paying fines.

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We face this issue where I work for the state. I cover a large area (9 Counties in my primary and 6 in my secondary area) of residential homes for the developmentaly disabled. I receive notifications from the homes constantly of burnt food on the stove activating the alarms. It happens too often and I fear the local FD's that cover these homes will start to fine us if we do not correct the issue.

But the issue we face is this; you have a DD home with 4-12 individuals living there with varied levels of need for assistance, and only 2 staff members to take care of them all as well as the day to day chores in the home. Chores include laundry, cleaning, cooking, bathing the individuals, taking care of the yard and the snow shoveling etc etc. When they start to cook a meal sometimes, there will be an episode with an individual that requires both staff to remediate, and the staff never turns off the stove...We train them and train them, when you leave the stove for any reason turn it off until you can come back to it but they never think of that, just whatever is going on in the other room. So they end up with multiple false alarms and responses by FD to clear the home. Our homes are instructed to evacuate every time the alarm goes off, and NOT to investigate the cause or call the FD off even if they know its burnt food, because they never know whats really going on or if the fire in the stove is truly out.

I will be reaching out to the local FD's to touch base with them and see what we can do for their specific sites that have frequent nuisance calls and how to remedy them. I have tried all, I am the Fire Safety Rep and they never listen to me until its too late or if they want to blame me for it...

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Steps in correcting repeat false alarms (malfunctions) from a premise:

1. Advise responsible party to correct malfunction.

2. If not corrected issue Notice of Violation with a specific date by which it must be corrected

3. If not corrected, issue Summons or Appearance Ticket

4. Court should order a fine and also correction of the malfunction

5. If not corrected, it is up to Court to say that the party is in Contempt of Court and issue arrest warrant

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I say fine the repeat offenders.

How often does an alarm come in and it actually turns out to be a fire or a robbery/burglar or something that actually requires a Police or Fire response?

A very small percentage of the time, probably a miniscule percentage. In my 36 years of Police/Fire experience, the number of actual emergencies that were reported solely by alarm is astonishingly small.

Some of the repeat offenders should have the service disconnected.

As far as the issue with the Group Homes that Firemoose827 touched on, the answer to that problem is: Hire more staff.

No one wants to hear about it, but the correct answer to that problem is a very simple solution, hire staff to watch the residents properly. The failings in staffing should not become a emergency response issue. Will anyone in a position of responsibility care about solving the actual issue? I do not think I have to answer that question.

EXDC203 and firemoose827 like this

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Fwiw the small-sized factory I used to work in had a fire alarm system wired to the local FD (all-volunteer). We had an ongoing problem with false alarms. We got a lot better with it over time. In the early years we might've had four or five a year to one or two (or none) in the last few years I was there.

There were a variety of causes.

The most common seemed to be someone inadvertently triggering an alarm. This usually happened when the alarm had to be reset for some reason. The area has a history of power surges on the electric grid and I think this used to disable the alarm. We had one or two guys that knew how to reset it. When they were out sick or on vacation the replacements often times triggered an alarm while resetting it. They could cancel it by calling the FD and verifying it was a known false alarm but sometimes they wouldn't do that. One problem was that the system had a very loud audible alarm in the building. Sometimes when the person succeeded in finally silencing the audible alarm they would forget to call the FD.

Another problem was contractors working in the building -- especially electrical contractors -- sometimes managed to set off an alarm. Sometimes they wouldn't tell anyone. The people monitoring the system had been trained not to just call the FD and tell them there was no fire. If they didn't know why the alarm had been triggered they had to check the building first and that of course took some time.

Another problem was a minor incident, like someone in the lab overheating a compound during lab testing, producing smoke. This would trigger the smoke alarms and that in turn set off the fire alarm.

I was friendly with one of the upper management people responsible for the alarm system. He told me as time went by the on-site people responsible for the alarm system became much more adept at handling it. That there is a learning curve. They also had enhanced the procedures. For instance when the alarm went off and we did not know why at first --we could call the local FD and tell them we were doing an on-site inspection to determine if there was any obvious problem (smoke, burning odor) -- if there were no signs of a problem that would be relayed to the FD and they would then only respond the battalion car. They wouldn't turn out the apparatus.

In certain cases where we were negligent and the FD had to make a full response I think we did have to pay a fine.

I have to point out though, one night about 3 00 AM when the building was empty, we did have a fire. If not for the alarm alerting the FD this could've been a major incident. The water sprinklers limited the fire but they did not extinguish it. It was the fire department that put it out, and also opened up the building to prevent what could've been a lot of smoke damage.

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We face this issue where I work for the state. I cover a large area (9 Counties in my primary and 6 in my secondary area) of residential homes for the developmentaly disabled. I receive notifications from the homes constantly of burnt food on the stove activating the alarms. It happens too often and I fear the local FD's that cover these homes will start to fine us if we do not correct the issue.

.......I will be reaching out to the local FD's to touch base with them and see what we can do for their specific sites that have frequent nuisance calls and how to remedy them. I have tried all, I am the Fire Safety Rep and they never listen to me until its too late or if they want to blame me for it...

We have had similar issues and found the problem of multiply "burnt food" can be reduced by the following:

1) in the kitchen replace the central station smoke detector with a rate of rise heat detector.

2) Add a local smoke detector in the kitchen (close to the stove).

The central station will only go off if there is a fire (not smoke) and when the food starts to burn (but long before its a hazard) the staff members will be alerted to mitigate. Residance can still be instructed to leave. & everyone needs to know that the FD will not respond until the central station goes off

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We have had similar issues and found the problem of multiply "burnt food" can be reduced by the following:

1) in the kitchen replace the central station smoke detector with a rate of rise heat detector.

2) Add a local smoke detector in the kitchen (close to the stove).

The central station will only go off if there is a fire (not smoke) and when the food starts to burn (but long before its a hazard) the staff members will be alerted to mitigate. Residance can still be instructed to leave. & everyone needs to know that the FD will not respond until the central station goes off

Thats a whole other thread in and of itself...lol

Believe it or not, they do have heat detectors in place, BUT, (theres always a but, mine bigger than most) in order to meet a full NFPA 72 compliant fire alarm system to get extra points for Life Safety Code you are also required to have a smoke head within so many feet of the kitchen that is hard wired. I dont make the laws, just have to enforce them.

My homes can follow NFPA 101A guidelines for Fire Safety Evaluation System or FSES, where they gain so many points for added fire protection features to over-rule some of the Life Safety Code Requirements...long story that I am trapped in.

I would rather they just be forced to follow fire and building codes with Life Safety Code enhancement, but if the state were to spend the money to totally convert all of the homes they are buying to fully compliant homes I would be getting a lot less in my check.

I offered them to have someone like Emeril or "Iron Chef" come in and teach all of the staff how to cook but...

We are also looking at the "Safe-T-Elements" for the stoves as well as the "Safe-T-Sensors" for microwaves, or the Gaurdian Range Hood Fire Systems as possible safegaurds to prevent them from burning the place down, but that still wont stop all of the false alarms. I guess its fast food only...lol

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1st we need to define a false alarm. If Mrs. Smith is cooking and burns somehing, the smoke sets of the smoke detector. We made it law that she has a smoke detector and that it will trigger an alarm. If its connected to a central station (which is sometimes required) it will notify the FD.

As much as we may not like it, this is not a false alarm. It performed exactly as designed and required by code.

I agree that in some cases they should be fined, but if you fine them enough they may just disconnect them and that was never the goal. How can you force them to disconnect a fire alarm,when in many cases it is required by code.

Right on, Bnechis! The alarm system is doing its job and efficiently transmitting a timely alarm. There should be no penalty for this alarm. It is no different tan a person smelling smoke and calling 911. The detector may have very well prevented a larger fire.

As for Mrs. Smith, I've had her pies and they aren't bad, but they do tend to spill over onto the cookie sheet and occasionally make enough smoke to set off detectors. If she activates her alarms over and over she need not be fined. The punishment should fit the crime. She should be sentenced to "Take Out" fdr 30 days on her first offense.

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Bnechis, you totally missed the point of my post probably because I was not clear enough. I agree that the alarm is doing exactly as designed when activating for the "burnt toast" and you are 110% correct that the last thing we want to advocate is the disconnecting of smoke/fire alarms to avoid fines. The point I was trying to make is that these "regular" smoke alarm activations for people who either can't make toast or boil water condition personnel into expecting the next alarm to be one in the same. This subconscious conditioning is dangerous for both the public and the first responder.

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Residential AFAs do not happen as much as commercial or industrial building AFAs. Obviously if Mrs. Smith is making pies in her kitchen and accidently burns one, that one wouldn't be a fineable offense. However if Joe Camel is smoking under the smoke detector in the hallway of a OMD every single day and setting if off every time thus setting off a FD response, well that is a different case. Somethings have to be case by case, I'm talking about the repeated activations that should have been corrected the first time and those which are a constant problem.

Another thing is when contractors are working in the building. This is something I deal with everyday that I work. The building owner / building superintendent is responsible for the fire alarm system of that structure and he / she should be making the proper notifications to FD dispatch / alarm company / fire marshal's office, ect. (we know that happens all of the time!). The contractor though they are not responsible for the fire alarm system, they are responsible in making sure they take the necessary precautions to prevent the internal fire alarm system from being set off. Also too if the FAS is taken down, the contractor is responsible to have a fire watch in place, especially if there is hot work (torch, welding, open flame or any spark producing work) being done; and it goes with out saying no hot work should be done if a fire protection (sprinkler, FM-200 system, et al) is taken off line.

Granted we do like to hear that the fire alarm system on an accidental trip operated correctly, at the same time that is why there is yearly and quarterly testing of systems.

I deal with FM Global standards when dealing at work with this, so my scope is a little more broad when when at work.

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