Galesburg Cracking Down on False Alarms - News and Weather For The Quad Cities -

Galesburg Cracking Down on False Alarms

Posted: Updated: Feb 3, 2014 10:29 PM

Galesburg City Council voted Monday night to change the alarm system ordinance, eliminating an outdated registration fee and increasing fees for repeat false alarms.

The changes, respectively, are meant to be incentives for more people to install alarm systems and for people to properly maintain their systems to make sure they are only going off when they are supposed to.

The city hopes to reduce the number of alarms city firefighters and police have to respond to and cut down on tax dollar waste by hitting repeat offenders where it hits the most, their wallets.

"There is no question we love fire alarms," said Dan Foley, Galesburg Fire Marshal. "We have saved businesses because an alarm had gone off."

"But we don't like it - it doesn't benefit anybody - to be running on calls that are false," he said.

For one thing, false alarms are a waste of resources.

The fire department sends fire crews and three trucks to every alarm that comes in, real or not. From the resulting wear and tear on the equipment to the price of fuel, city taxpayers foot the bill.

"Every time the truck goes out the door, there is a cost," Galesburg Fire Chief Tom Simkins said.

But more than that, false alarms are a public safety risk.

The fire department responds to about 290 of them a year, and the police chief tells us his officers respond to about 200.

Every time, that's diverting resources that may be needed elsewhere.

"We've had calls when we had to pull guys off of a working fire because we don't know if it's the real deal or not," Foley said.

So, Galesburg is making changes to its rules to help better protect the public.

The city is eliminating an old alarm registration fee, left over from when Galesburg dispatchers were in charge of monitoring private fire and security alarms instead of the private companies that do that now.

"Without that direct tie in, it didn't seem right that we were still charging people the $200 for the registration, plus the $35 annual fee," Chief Simkins said.

The city will be making up for that lost revenue, at least in part, by cracking down on repeat false alarms.

"You get less forgiveness and the step rate goes up faster," Foley explained.

Before, the city ordinance called for a $50 fee for each false alarm beyond three in a year, and a $100 fee for each one over ten in a year.

Now, it will be a $50 fee for each false alarm beyond one in a year, and a $150 fee for each one over three in a year.

"That should give encouragement where we want," Foley said. "We want to encourage people to have fire alarms, we want to discourage people from having a lot of false calls."

Public safety officials agree that in an ideal world, Galesburg would not have to collect any alarm fees:

"We'd like to have it to the point where there's not going to be false alarms but that's a bit unrealistic," Chief Simkins said.

"That is why we give you one free. You know there is always going to be some problems that you can't get around," Foley added.

Officials we talked to want to be clear: the false alarm fees will only be charged in instances where alarm systems repeatedly malfunction.

Alarms that go off because a child pulled one, or because of the weather, are not the targets of this ordinance.

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