Delaware eyes statewide false fire alarm law

Friday, November 1, 2002

DOVER, Del. - In a potentially precedent setting move, the state of Delaware plans to consider next year whether to implement a statewide law governing false fire alarms.

The idea to draft legislation that deals with false fire alarms was proposed by the state's fire marshal, who wants to lessen the false fire alarm burden in the state and at the same time penalize fire alarm owners and fire firms who repeatedly allow false fire alarms to happen.

"Some legislation crucifies the alarm vendor for everything and I don't agree with that," said Willard F. Preston III, fire marshal for the state of Delaware. "We're trying to put the blame where it belongs and everyone shares responsibility."

To craft the legislation, Preston formed a committee made up of fire fighters and alarm company representatives. And unlike some municipalities that have drafted similar ordinances, Preston sought the involvement of industry representatives.

"The alarm association and the fire departments all see a similar problem that they all agreed to tackle together," he said.

So far the group has proposed legislation that would place blame on respective parties. For example, if the fire system is being tested, but the alarm vendor fails to notify the fire department, the alarm company would face a penalty. The reverse is true if the alarm owner fails to maintain the system and an alarm sounds as a result of a lack of maintenance.

"We have a responsibility when we go out and test the system and we don't call the fire department. If we forget to do that, now there's a false alarm," said committee participant, Tony Abbate, who is president of the Delaware Alarm Association and owner of Delaware Electric Signal. "We should be held liable for things like that."

Delaware is also in the midst of considering legislation governing false security alarms. That proposal is expected to be taken up in January.

Some aspects of the false fire alarm ordinance still have yet to be worked out, such as how the law would deal with systems that emit false alarms because they were improperly installed or due to a faulty smoke detector.

Still, plans call for allowing three false alarms a year, but the fourth false alarm would constitute a $100 fine. The fifth would call for a $200 fine, with each subsequent false fire alarm costing $250.

"The goal is to reduce the amount of false alarms that are plaguing the fire department," said Preston. "Primarily all our fire departments in Delaware are volunteer. It not only has a financial impact, but it has a manpower impact."