Steamboat officials prepare owners for nuisance alarm law
July 13, 2010
False alarm ordinance
A system malfunction is defined in the ordinance as:
The emergency alarm was caused by poor or improper maintenance, improper installation of emergency alarm equipment, hardware or wiring. An improper action by the emergency alarm monitoring center or emergency alarm installation/testing company also will be considered a system malfunction.
User error: The act or omission of an agent, employee or contractor of the emergency alarm system owner or, in the case of a construction site, by the general contractor.
Undetermined cause: Any emergency alarm that, after investigation by fire and/or law enforcement personnel, does not reveal the apparent cause of the emergency alarm. If the emergency alarm system owner or, in the case of a construction site, the general contractor, or their agent, can provide proof of cause within two working days from the emergency alarm time, the responding agency may re-evaluate the assessment.
1 Warning letter
The ordinance states fines will increase by $100 with each offense, with no limit.
Source: City of Steamboat Springs
Many more alarm calls were from an undetermined cause. Only two were listed in Steamboat Springs Police Department records as legitimate alarms related to an emergency.
Officials now are readying the public for a nuisance alarm law that could take effect as soon as Aug. 1, with fines for multiple false burglary and fire alarms at businesses and homes. The fines begin at $200 after the second false alarm, according to the ordinance passed by the Steamboat Springs City Council in May. Fines increase by $100 with each call-out after that.
According to a review of Police Department statistics, as many as 67 businesses and residences could have been fined in 2009, had the new law been in place. Some total fines could've reached thousands of dollars if the city had decided to impose the harshest penalties.
Fire Marshall Jay Muhme, the main author of the alarm law, said there are no definite guidelines about when fines will be imposed, and the officer or firefighter responding to each call will have discretion of whether to impose a fine.
He said the officer or firefighter making the determination could take the intent of the owner into consideration.
"Were they trying to do anything to stop from setting the alarm off, or did they just negligently disregard" the law, he said.
He said the intent of the law is to reduce the number of false alarms to the point where the ordinance will be unnecessary.
"Hopefully, the lesson will be learned, and this certainly isn't a revenue-generating ordinance, although it could generate revenue," he said. "The hope is it won't be needed in a year or two."
The fine will be assessed to the owner of the business or residence unless responders find a contractor on site who set off the alarm.
Muhme said that if a construction company on site did not take adequate precaution against getting dust into an alarm, or if a plumber created smoke without shielding the alarm, those contractors could be held accountable.
Alarm companies preparing
Life Safety Solutions alarm company President Mike Kinnecom said he understands the city's desire to reduce the number of false alarms because getting called out to alarms can pose a danger for firefighters and police.
He said that even so, it can be hard for an alarm company to tell whether alarm notifications are legitimate. Especially in older condo buildings where all of the fire alarms are wired onto one system, he said, it can be difficult to check on the alarm.
Because of that, Kinnecom said he is recommending that all of his clients make sure the alarms are reporting correctly. He said owners need to clean fire detectors annually to avoid dust buildup and more false alarms.
If a system starts triggering false alarms, Kinnecom said, the company can closely monitor that specific alarm to verify any triggers before 911 dispatchers are notified.
Western Security President Frank Bradley told City Council members he thought the alarm law was "a little harsh" before council members unanimously approved the second reading of the ordinance on May 18, according to council minutes.
Last week, he said his company also is using alarm verification to reduce the number of false reports passed along to police.
There are going to be inevitable false alarms even with additional scrutiny, Kinnecom said. That's compounded by the number of empty second homes in the city where doors can be knocked open by a strong wind or triggered by an influx of flies, or a spider crawling across the sensor.
In those cases, Kinnecom said, his company will check out the alarm and contact the building maintenance manager to try to prevent future false alarms.
When the alarm law was first introduced, Muhme said multiple offenders were the focus of the ordinance because the same alarm can be triggered multiple times in a night. If the alarm owners don't get the faulty trigger fixed, that can continue for weeks, he said.
Of the 69 businesses and residences with two or more false alarms that police responded to in 2009, only two were fire alarms.
Of the 67 locations with multiple intrusion alarms, 35 locations had three or more false or undetermined-cause alarms during the year. The ordinance considers undetermined alarms also to be false.
Several government facilities also were among the perpetrators. The Steamboat Springs Animal Shelter had 14 false alarm calls during 2009, and the U.S. Post Office's downtown Steamboat branch recorded 10 false alarms.
Only two alarms in 2009, both fire alarms, were not marked as false in police records. The other 423 were either false or from unknown causes.