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Fire monitoring battle ongoing in Illinois

Fire monitoring battle ongoing in Illinois A judge says public fire districts can’t be in the fire monitoring business, but local municipalities contend they still can require businesses to be monitored only by them

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.—A battle in this state over public entities taking control over fire alarm monitoring is still raging, despite a recent federal court ruling saying a public fire district had no legal right to invalidate contracts that ADT Security and other companies had with their customers and put itself solely in charge of commercial fire alarm monitoring.

In the July 20 decision, a judge in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois said that a state law establishing public fire protection districts in the state does not grant the districts any authority to be in the fire alarm monitoring business.

Kevin Lehan, the executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association (IESA), called the ruling “a positive step.” However, he said,  it doesn't end the controversy because municipalities in the state—which are distinct from fire protection districts—still contend they have the legal right to require businesses be monitored by them instead of private companies.

“The municipalities have indicated that they're going to operate like they're not bound by what the federal judge said,” he told Security Systems News.

That's because, according to the Northwest Herald newspaper, municipalities are interpreting part of the judge's ruling to say that they still have the authority under the Illinois Municipal Code to have control over fire alarm monitoring.

Then, Lehan contends, municipalities will have fire protection districts operate the service through intergovernmental agreements. He called that a way to “just sidestep whatever this judge says.”

Lehan said IESA continues to fight against public entities having a monopoly over fire alarm monitoring, which it says will damage the industry. Supporters of public control of fire alarm monitoring say it's necessary for safety reasons, but IESA and its members deny that, and contend municipalities and fire districts simply want the monitoring revenue.

“I am certain if this becomes standard practice in Illinois, it will spread across the country rapidly,” Lehan told SSN. “Everyone is looking for revenue and unfortunately the way the government is at this point, they believe they can just take it from private industry.”

The IESA this spring led a successful effort to persuade state legislators to kill a bill that would have given public fire districts sole control over fire alarm monitoring. The association rallied industry members and other business groups, such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, to oppose the law.

The industry believed the bill was a reaction to the temporary injunction that Judge Milton Shadur issued late last year in favor of security giant ADT and four other security companies. They had all sued the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District in federal court because that Illinois fire district had passed an ordinance putting itself solely in control of commercial fire alarm monitoring in the district. It had declared monitoring contracts ADT and the other companies had with customers to be null and void and required those business owners to contract exclusively with the fire district for fire monitoring through its wireless radio network, paying monitoring fees to the district.

The judge in that ruling—which is under appeal by the fire district—ordered reinstatement of the company contracts, saying the district had no “express authority” in the law to engage in the fire alarm monitoring business.

The judge's decision this month reaffirmed his earlier one and makes the injunction permanent. Shadur also granted a partial summary judgment to ADT and the other companies, saying they have demonstrated they are likely to win the case on its merits. The judge noted that damages to ADT and the other companies were likely to be very high because of the loss of their customers and business.

ADT told SSN its lawyers were not available for comment on the case.

Lehan said that steps IESA is taking to be proactive on the issue include holding a recent meeting with business owners in McHenry, Ill., to inform them their costs for monitoring and equipment will increase under a mandate to connect to a municipal monitoring center.

And he said the association recently learned the communities of Elgin and Lombard are researching the possibility of establishing municipal control of monitoring, and has met with public officials in those communities to discuss the ramifications of such a decision.

Lehan said IESA also is warning communities that association members have discussed taking them to court if they require municipal monitoring.

“We've put a lot of these communities on notice,” he said. “My statement to them is that we hope they quickly recognize the mistake of establishing a government alarm monitoring monopoly so that the private alarm industry is not damaged any further. We hope those communities will rectify the situation by amending their ordinances to allow free-market competition and avoid fruitless taxpayer-funded litigation.”

SSN continues to report on this story.

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