Toronto zero-tolerance rule raising alarm

City shocked by residents disconnecting fire alarms to avoid fines
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Thursday, December 9, 2010

TORONTO—A zero-tolerance false alarm regulation here is raising concerns within the industry because residents are reportedly disconnecting their fire alarms to avoid fines of more than $1,000.

“We believe that this is a serious situation,” Stan Martin, executive director of the Security Industry Alarm Coalition told Security Systems News. “Anytime you’re talking about people shutting off systems because of high fines that’s a huge public safety issue and we all need to work together to resolve that.”

Martin said in early December SIAC was working with CANASA (Canadian Security Association) on the issue.

However, it’s possible the controversial city rule could be changed before the end of the year, if Toronto City Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby has her way. She told SSN she knows of four or five residents in her ward who have said they’ve unplugged their alarms rather than pay the fines. The cost for a false alarm is $350 per fire truck and three trucks routinely respond to each alarm, bringing the total fee to $1,050.

The council approved the zero-tolerance approach earlier this year as a way to combat nuisance false alarms and raise revenue in this city of just under 3 million people, but Luby said it wasn’t made clear to councillors single family homeowners would be so impacted. “We’ve never had this issue before. It’s a shock to all of us,” she said.

Luby said she plans to make a motion to the City Council at its Dec. 16 meeting that the city go back to a previous regulation approved in 2006 allowing one false fire alarm per year without charge. Luby said she believes there is support among the city’s elected leaders—44 city councilors and the mayor—for the change.

“Common sense has to prevail, that’s all I’m asking for, to make things sensible and reasonable,” she said.

Martin suggested the city’s fire department also look at alternative ways to deal with false alarms, such as “allowing a verification call.” He also suggested the city consider not routinely sending out three vehicles for each call. He said many cities in the United States only send one truck initially to see if there is a need for more.

Luby said she also wants to find out why so many fire trucks respond to an alarm.