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Excessive false fire alarms ordinance approved by WH Fire and Sewer District

STAFF REPORTS
Published on Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Wade Hampton Fire and Sewer District has approved a district-specific ordinance aimed at addressing what officials consider “excessive false fire alarms.” The ordinance went into effect June 1.

Chief Randy Edwards said that the ordinance is designed to encourage alarm owners to keep their systems maintained, serviced, and repaired – not as a mechanism to generate revenue.

“As the number of false fire alarms continues to increase, the people and property in the District are potentially placed in harm’s way when we have to divert equipment and manpower to locations where there is no emergency,” Edwards said.

“Fires can double in size every two minutes, so when an alarm is triggered, we respond. There’s a lot that goes in to that response to make sure we're equipped and staffed to address a potential fire. We can't determine until we arrive on scene and thoroughly examine a structure whether or not an alarm is false, and for the safety of the District, we don't leave anything to chance,” Edwards added.

District policy requires a response from five to six vehicles staffed by 12 to 15 fire service personnel – depending on the alarm type.

For commercial alarms, response comes from three engines with three firefighters per engine, a ladder truck with three firefighters on-board, a special operations truck with a two-person crew, and a command vehicle with one officer.

For residential alarms, the manpower and equipment response is identical, except there is one less engine and three fewer firefighters. 

Under the new ordinance, no citation will be issued and no fee will be assessed until an alarm owner exceeds three false alarms in a calendar quarter.

The three-alarm limit will apply to each separate system or master alarm box. If a false alarm is cancelled prior to fire personnel and equipment deploying to the location that will not count toward the three-alarm limit and District commissioners provide for a three-day grace period for new alarm installations “during which no alarms shall be counted.” The ordinance also includes a provision for alarms caused by natural disturbances.

If an alarm owner reaches the fourth false fire alarm in a calendar quarter, assessed fees begin at $50 and can range to $500 if an alarm owner reaches 10 or more false alarms during that calendar quarter. While the fees will be submitted to Summary Court for collection if not paid within 90 days of a citation's issue, violations of the District's ordinance are civil, not criminal.

“I don't want us to write tickets,” Edwards said. “We just want to make sure that alarm owners take active measures to ensure their systems are operating correctly and that if there is an issue, it's addressed in a timely manner. At the same time, we want to make sure that when there are real emergency situations like a fire, a first response medical call, or a motor vehicle accident, our resources are available to address them instead of responding to a false alarm that could have been prevented.”

A copy of the complete ordinance is available to the public upon request.

 

 

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