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Excessive false alarm calls rob fire, police agencies of time

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Businesses and residents will soon pay up to $200 each for false alarms that require responses from Columbus firefighters, or up to $50 each for false alarms to the police department.

Columbus’ public safety agencies want their personnel and resources directed at situations where they can have a positive impact, such as fighting a fire or investigating a crime, rather than responding unnecessarily to non-emergency situations. They plan to more strictly enforce an ordinance that provides fines for repeat false claims.

“We use a lot of our resources and time,” said Lt. Matt Myers, public information officer for the Columbus Police Department and Columbus Fire Department. “Any time an alarm sounds, (CPD) sends two officers no matter what. So, we’re looking at 15 minutes to half an hour tying up officers that could do proactive enforcement in other areas.”

Many false alarms are the results of human error, such as when people forget to turn off or reset alarms after entering a home or business, Myers aid.

Sometimes alarm systems are triggered by malfunctions, animals or weather. Alarms triggered by severe weather, such as lightning strikes or high winds, would not be included in the false-alarm total, Myers said.

A current city ordinance allows police to respond to three false alarms in a calendar year without charge. A charge of $25 will be assessed for the fourth and fifth false alarms each. Additional false alarms will cost $50 each.

The same city ordinance allows firefighters to respond to a specified number of false alarms in a calendar year without penalty, depending on the number of detectors and pull stations at a facility.

Businesses or residences with small alarm systems — defined in city code as less than 50 detectors and pull stations — won’t get penalized until the fourth false call. Those with the largest alarm systems — defined as more than 250 detectors and pull stations — wouldn’t be penalized until the seventh false alarm. The service charge is $50 for each of the next three false alarms, $100 for each of the following three and $200 for all subsequent false alarms.

Money generated by the service charges will be used for upgrading and buying equipment that police and firefighters use to respond to alarms.

The charges have been assessed inconsistently in the past, Myers said.

Businesses have been charged for false alarms while residences have not.

Closer monitoring of false alarms has given the police and fire departments a clearer picture of which businesses and residences are prompting their responses unnecessarily, and how much of a problem this is.

Columbus Fire Chief Dave Allmon and Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix said in a news release that business and residential alarms are important to prevent fire, criminal acts and the loss of life or property. But, they encourage businesses and residents to test their alarms to ensure they work properly, minimizing the possibility of a false alarm.

“We understand that mistakes happen, but a large percentage (of false alarms responded to by police) are human error that is preventable,” Myers said.

Charges will begin Jan. 1.

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