No more free rides, fire department tells local businesses

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Monday, September 1, 2003

CENTRE WELLINGTON, Ontario - By the beginning of November, businesses in this area of Wellington County will have to start paying for alarm monitoring services from a monitoring company. The fire department, which for years provided free monitoring, is getting out of that business, and according to one industry insider, it’s about time.

“More power to the fire department. Nobody in the world should be getting away with free monitoring,” said Dave Duggan of Markham, Ontario-based Electronic Surveillance Corp., who is also a board member of the Canadian Fire Alarm Association. Duggan’s company provided the Wellington County Fire Department with an automated system that routes alarm signals through ESC and automatically pages the volunteer firefighters.

While the direct monitoring of alarms by fire departments is not the norm in the United States, in Canada, Duggan said, it is quite common. Doing it for no charge, however, is not.

“Every other fire department that I’m aware of does it for a fee, and it’s usually commensurate with a monitoring station, anywhwere between $30 and $50 a month, depending on the signal power and that type of thing,” he said. “There are probably hundreds of fire departments that do this. The only one that cannot do this is the volunteer fire department because their hall is sitting there with the lights off.”

And therein lay one problem for Fire Chief Brad Patton, who made the decision in July to cut off the free service. Because the department is made up of volunteers, he said, the service was too time-

consuming and was becoming a financial liability.

Another contributing factor toward ending the service, Patton said, was that the fire department’s equipment did not meet the standards of either Underwriters Laboratories of Canada or the National Fire Protection Service.

Duggan said the decision to end the free service was probably long overdue.

“The equipment the department has has been upgraded and the town has been paying for it and you’ve got to get the revenue back somehow,” he said. “You can’t be providing a free service to somebody and not to other people.”

Patton said the department is not interested in continuing to monitor alarms for the affected businesses for a fee. Rather, the department is getting out of providing monitoring services for businesses altogether. The more than 30 affected businesses, which Patton declined to name, were notified in late July and early August, and were given 90 days to find an alternate source of monitoring.