Lighting a Fire Under the Alarm Community

When the fight against false alarms first began, many throughout the security industry ignored the warning signs of escalating alarm dispatches and wrongly assumed the benefit to the consumer and community outweighed the resulting increased use of law enforcement response.

Today there is another preventable dispatch dilemma making its way into the alarm industry. The issue is formidable and complex; I am referring to fire alarms!

At a recent national conference Jeff Johnson, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), said out of the 10,000 fire alarms his Aloha, Ore., department responded to 2008, only three were actual fire emergencies, all of which were handled prior to the department’s arrival. Moreover, in Henderson, Nev., roughly 20 months ago the local fire chief suspended response to virtually all fire signals without visual verification of an actual fire.

Although these two incidents may seem isolated, as more fire departments nationwide continue to struggle with budget cuts and personnel costs, more departments will be exploring options for adjusting or even curtailing their response to fire signals.

Our industry follows required installation standards, maintenance schedules and mandated dispatch standards. The systems work as designed, detecting and reporting every potentially critical event, and fire departments respond. But with growing frustration, fire departments often arrive to find they are not needed and are now looking for someone to blame (or pay for the response). In that light they are increasing fines to customers and alarm companies. The next major move will be reducing or eliminating response! 

Take Concerted Action, Forthwith

Now is the time for the security industry to band together and formulate an educated response to the questions that local jurisdictions will soon be asking. Think tanks and committees must come together to research changes to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) codes and standards. Fire chiefs and other fire professionals everywhere must work with us to re-evaluate these systems and response procedures. Now is the time to open our minds and get realistic as we had to do with security 15 years ago.

We must think out of the box. How about a “cancel” button for fire dispatch to allow those on the scene to signal a monitoring center that someone at the location is saying they don’t need the fire department for the “burnt toast”? All ideas must be considered if we really want more options to cancel unnecessary dispatches as we have done with security.

The issue of how to create a responsible fire alarm ordinance that protects the community while best utilizing the time and resources of fire personnel is unlike any issue the security industry has tackled thus far. It will not be overcome through conventional tactics.

Today, the Security Industry Alarm Coalition (SIAC), Electronic Security Association (ESA) and Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA) are asking for a call to awareness of this upcoming fight. We ask that in your next local, state or national committee meeting, the issue of fire signal dispatches be placed on the meeting agendas and that ample time be given to the topic to explore all possible issues and solutions.

Through a collaborative dialogue, the security industry must develop the ideas and solutions that fire personnel will find acceptable and prudent to implement in their local community. A proactive approach to this issue will help us be prepared and succeed before local ordinances begin popping up across the country.

There must be an awakening throughout the security industry and that awakening must be now.

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