False fire alarms may lead to fines

Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service plan will recover the costs of false alarms and other fire services

False fire alarms and hazardous material incidents may lead to fines if there isn’t due diligence done to stop them from occurring.

Council has approved a plan by Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service to help recover the costs of false alarms and other fire services.

Fire chief Don Beer said the goal is not to make money, but to hold people accountable for  false alarms due to improper alarm maintenance, and to charge polluters for the cleanup of hazardous material spills.

There are existing fines for false fire alarms, which were approved in 2009.

Property owners and occupiers are allowed one false alarm in a 12-month period with no charge. After that, a single-family home, townhouse or duplex may, under the current rules, be fined $50 for a second false alarm, increasing up to $400 for fifth and subsequent false alarms. For apartment buildings or businesses, a second false alarm may cost $150, up to $1,200 for fifth and subsequent false alarms – but fines haven’t always been enforced.

“We’ve charged very few false alarm situations, but we want to start implementing that with these changes,” said Beer.

He pointed out there is often a good reason for a false alarm – such as cooking that causes heavy smoke but no fire – and fire services does not intend to charge for those incidents.

“If we started fining for those, we would have people disconnecting their alarm systems.”

He said the intent is to charge, and therefore discourage, people who fail to properly maintain alarm systems, leading to false alarms.

Beer said another issue for fire services is fire alarm testing companies that fail to notify them that a false alarm will occur.

He said that as these tests are often done annually, granting one false alarm in a 12-month period is not a deterrent. Under the new rules, even on a first false alarm, fire alarm testing companies will be fined $200 if they do not follow procedure and notify fire services.

The plan also allows an owner, carrier or organization that transports dangerous goods and causes an incident to be charged the price of cleaning up.

Beer said this is intended to hold potential polluters accountable – paying up to $1,000 an hour for active duty and $500 for standby of the hazmat team– adding it’s not the taxpayers’ job to foot the bill if proper process wasn’t followed by a company or carrier.

The changes will also introduce an appeal process, allowing owners or occupants an opportunity to dispute the fees charged.

Beer said the changes provide an opportunity to educate the public about the importance of proper use and maintenance of alarm systems.