False alarms could be costly

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The City Council Tuesday tentatively approved a plan for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department to begin charging fees for false alarms.

The proposed ordinance passed 5-3 on first reading, with a final vote scheduled in two weeks.

“Let's hammer these folks who just won't take responsibility for their alarms that are misfiring and putting the public's safety at risk,” said Councilwoman Marti Emerald.

The dissenting votes were cast by council members Lorie Zapf, Kevin Faulconer and Carl DeMaio, who called the plan a “fishing expedition for revenue.”

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department has proposed partnering with the city's police department to incorporate fire and harmful gas alarm responses into the existing Burglar, Robbery and Emergency Alarm System beginning Nov. 1. Permits would be issued for combination fire/security alarms as well as fire- only alarms, which would allow for two false alarms per year.

If a permitted alarm causes enough false alarms to be deemed a nuisance, the permit would be revoked and penalties assessed, according to the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department. Fees would begin with the third false alarm, which would result in a $110 assessment, and increase with additional false alarms.

A response to an unpermitted false alarm would result in an $85 charge, said Chief Javier Mainar, noting the fees would not be a reliable city revenue source.

The intention of the proposal is to motivate owners of malfunctioning fire alarm systems to take corrective action to ensure resources are available for genuine emergencies, and to reduce time spent responding to and investigating false alarms, which is a drain on an already busy system, according to Assistant Chief Brian Fennessy.

Over the past three years, the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department averaged 6,281 false alarms per year, resulting in 1,977 hours of effort at a cost of $541,679, Fennessy said.

Firefighters have no real way of knowing which alarms are false during a response, and repeated trips to the same addresses reduces firefighters' availability to respond to actual emergencies, Fennessy said.

Categories: KUSI