New front in Illinois fire monitoring battle

Proposed legislation would allow public fire districts back into monitoring business after a court ordered them out of it
 - 
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

DES PLAINES, Ill.—Just as Illinois fire protection districts are shutting down their fire monitoring programs because of a federal court ruling saying such public entities aren’t authorized to be that business, proposed new state legislation would grant the districts that authority.

The industry is fighting back, organizing private alarm companies to help defeat House Bill 5683. They say the bill would shut out them out of the commercial fire monitoring market. The industry contends fire districts and other public entities want to monopolize fire monitoring to boost revenue in public coffers.

Kevin Lehan, executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association (IESA), based here, told Security Systems News that a March 12 IESA meeting will focus on organizing the state’s licensed alarm contractors and discussing how they can educate “the state’s lawmakers on why this is a bad deal.”

Lehan said, “The intent of the bill appears to be a way to circumvent the Lisle-Woodridge ruling in federal court.”

ADT, Aurora, Ill.-based Alarm Detection Systems (ADS) and other private alarm companies in 2010 sued the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District, which had passed an ordinance mandating that commercial and multi-residential businesses must contract solely with the district for fire alarm monitoring.

A July 2013 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit favored the alarm companies. The ruling upheld an earlier decision by federal Judge Milton Shadur that said, among other things, that such a governmental monopoly was illegal and that fire districts didn’t have the authority to be in the fire alarm monitoring business or charge customers fees for monitoring.

The proposed new state legislation would change that.

According to a bill summary, it would amend the Fire Protection District Act to allow districts to “adopt ordinances regulating the supervision and monitoring of fire alarm systems maintained within the district.” The bill also would allow districts “to collect reasonable fees for fire alarm services that are provided to customers by the district itself or through a vendor approved by the board.”

Furthermore, Lehan pointed out, the bill would exempt local government units from the state licensing requirements alarm companies must meet.

The Seventh Circuit court found that the Lisle-Woodridge fire district’s system was “less reliable and more dangerous than the private alarm companies’ systems” because it didn’t meet the NFPA standards central stations must comply with.

Lehan told SSN that the bill was introduced on Feb. 14, the last day for bills to be submitted for the legislative session. It uses such broad language that he believes it will be amended to include more specifics as it goes through the General Assembly.

“It was thrown into the Rules Committee; that’s its status at the moment,” Lehan told SSN on Feb. 21. “We’re just waiting to see how the language evolves, but regardless of how it evolves we will be calling on the entire industry to educate their local lawmakers.” He said alarm companies throughout the state should be concerned “because this isn’t just a Chicago-area problem. This can be put into place anywhere within the state of Illinois.”