Fire accounts could be seized, monitored by city

Thursday, July 20, 2006

NAPERVILLE, Ill.--When the city council sent a letter to alarm companies earlier this summer suggesting that fire alarm systems in commercial and housing complexes could be monitored by the Naperville Fire Department and not alarm monitoring companies as a way to keep costs down and prevent rate increases, alarm companies serving the Naperville market grew concerned.
During a city council meeting after the announcement, the chamber of commerce said it had passed a resolution urging the fire department, a number of councilmen and industry representatives to study the issue before the city drafted an ordinance.
Naperville fire chief John Wu said, "We are hoping to go back to the council with a summary report in August."
With roughly 3,000 commercial and multifamily accounts in Naperville, Ed Bonifas vice president of Alarm Detection Systems in Aurora, Ill, which serves 1,000 accounts here, is troubled by the proposal. "It will eliminate cost competitiveness, as there would be only one source to get the monitoring from, so there would be no reason to be competitive."
"About 1,000 accounts are monitored through the city now," said Bonifas. "The other 2,000 would be confiscated from the alarm industry and monitored by the city," using a monitoring board that implements AES radio.
Wu understands that the industry is also in the business to provide public safety service. "We think there are opportunities to improve that service to the building owners and occupants," Wu said. "Our interest obviously is to reduce the time between the notice of the problem and the call to us."
Although the norm throughout the United States is to have fire alarm systems monitored through private alarm companies, Bonifas said, "Illinois has no statewide fire code. As a result, every city gets to literally write and enforce their own rules. It's like each city becomes a state legislator on these things. Chicago still has a whole bunch of fire department-operated monitoring boards."
Alarm Detection Systems and a handful of other companies monitoring the area believe customers should have a choice when it comes to who monitors their facilities.
"I'd like to understand what issues the fire department is trying to solve and hope that we can both solve their problems and stay in the business," Bonifas said.
Wu agreed a balanced compromise should be made. Despite the local ordinance that allows fire departments to be providers of alarm services, Wu said, "we will be primarily focusing on how we will find a balance, and when is it legitimate for government to be taking over or amending the ordinance."