BILLINGS – Commercial property owners in Billings with too many bogus burglar or fire alarms will be billed a $ 250 fee, following a unanimous vote in the Billings City Council meeting Monday evening.
âThe purpose is not to generate income for the city. The purpose is to motivate fire alarm system owners not to generate false positives and to be more careful with their systems, “said Billings Fire Marshal Mike Spini.
Between 2018 and 2020, the Billings Fire Department responded to an average of 833 false positives, Spini said. They make up about 5.5 percent of the department’s total call volume of roughly 16,000 per year.
A false alarm call can put an engine out of service for a period of time and cover its urban area from crews from other fire stations, Spini said.
âIt’s more than just that one engine. It’s affecting the whole department across the board because you’re now taking an engine out of service to fix that and there may be another call near you that another fire station needs to respond to, “Spini said.
Commercial property owners will be billed $ 250 for their third and subsequent false fire alarms or false police alarms.
The false positives are divided into two police and fire response categories, which are reset annually. For example, a commercial property owner may have two false alarms on fire and the third results in a fine, while they may only have one false intruder alarm this year.
Spini said he has a top 10 list of the worst offenders. On the high end, some commercial properties have 29 false positives per year and some nine per year on the low end.
“The advantage would be to limit these false alarm reactions, which frees up resources for both police and fire departments to respond to real emergencies,” said Spini.
For the police, the false burglar alarms are more frightening. Billings Police Lt. Shawn Mayo said in 2021, Billings police had received 3,333 alarm calls so far, with almost half of the calls identified by officers at 1,613 as alarm malfunctions.
The problem is that any burglar alarm is viewed as an ongoing event, which means officials are quick to respond and say that a car accident without injury could be moved further down the priority list.
âWhen you have a suspicious (phone call) or maybe a non-injured accident. Hopefully these calls will get more attention a little quicker so we have fewer alarms so you can respond more quickly to the others, âMayo said.
Typically two officers are dispatched to raise a burglar alarm, and sometimes more, depending on the circumstances of the alarm. The patrolmen can quickly stretch that on shift work,
Based on other communities that have implemented similar policies, Spini hopes they will see a 25 percent decrease in the total number of false positives within the first year.
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