False fire alarms in area will cost you

Published: Friday, July 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 30, 2005 at 11:17 p.m.
Reducing the waste and danger posed by responding to false fire alarms is the goal behind a new ordinance that will fine residents and business owners for repeated false calls, fire officials said.
The false fire alarm ordinance takes effect today in Gainesville and in the unincorporated areas of Alachua County.
Residents and business owners will be required to obtain permits for fire alarm systems and can be fined for continued false alarms. Each permit owner is allowed one false alarm a year.
Mirrored after a burglar alarm ordinance adopted in 2000 to reduce the thousands of false alarm calls to police officers, Alachua County Fire Rescue spokeswoman Megan Crandall said, "This is being done to increase safety. This is not a money-maker."
The ordinance is aimed at calls caused by pranks or alarm malfunctions because of the improper maintenance or operation of fire alarm systems.
Gainesville Fire Rescue spokeswoman Jodi Smith said, "The driving force is safety. You are pulling someone out of service for something not real."
False calls can cause delays to legitimate calls and cost the agencies thousands of dollars a year, she said.
The two fire agencies have been called to more than 9,000 false alarms since 2002.
Gainesville Fire Rescue responded to 2,331 false calls last year, which made up about 15 percent of the department's service calls, Smith said. It was the second-highest number of calls after those for emergency medical services.
Four to five vehicles respond to an average residential fire alarm, Crandall and Smith said, and it costs about $300 per vehicle sent to a fire alarm.
Alachua County Fire Rescue was dispatched to almost 1,000 false fire alarms last year, meaning the agency spent about $1.2 million on false calls in 2004. The agency has responded to 551 false alarms so far this year.
Permits will be required for monitored fire alarm systems, in which an outside agency oversees the system, and unmonitored systems, in which a horn or signal summons the fire department.
Smoke detectors aren't considered alarm systems that need a permit.
All residential and commercial fire alarm permits will cost $15 in the county or the city. A dual burglar and fire alarm residential permit in the city will cost $15.75.
The fire alarm permit fee is waived for anyone who has already paid for a valid residential burglar alarm permit in the city or county, said Glynda Saavedra with the False Alarm Reduction Unit. Businesses must obtain the new permit even if they have a valid burglar alarm permit.
False alarm fines could cost from $25 to $400, depending on the number of times fire rescue has been called to the address for a false alarm. Someone found to have a nonpermitted alarm could face a $200 fine.
Residents living in rental properties should check with landlords to see who will be handling the required permits.
Money raised by fines and permits will cover the cost of the program, Smith said.
Officials are expected to suspend strict enforcement of the ordinance for the next several weeks while people are obtaining permits.
For more information or to get a permit, contact the False Alarm Reduction Unit at the county's Combined Communications Center, 1100 SE 27th St., at (352) 264-6650 or at www.alachuasheriff.org/alarms/index.htm.
Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@ gvillesun.com.

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