Fire Alarm

Changes are coming to the city of Washington’s false alarm ordinance.

The city council discussed revising the ordinance during Monday’s administration/operations meeting. Among the changes discussed were an increase in fines for multi-time offenders and reducing the number of no-fine false alarm calls that are allowed.

Director of Communications Lisa Hotsenpiller said a revised ordinance was proposed because the current ordinance was not as stringent as it could be and hadn’t been updated in 10 years. She said some of the items included in the current ordinance are no longer applicable.

Fire Chief Bill Halmich said responding to false alarms is taking up too much time and is becoming a safety issue. He said his crews are routinely making runs, and going out into heavily trafficked areas, for false alarms.

Halmich said recently the fire department responded to a local business four times in five days for false alarms.

The issue, Halmich said, is businesses and alarm companies know the cause of the false alarm, but aren’t notifying the fire department ahead of time.

Halmich said he believes part of the reason the fire department isn’t getting notified is because businesses know they get a “free one.”

Under the city’s current ordinance businesses and residents are given two warnings before being fined. Each subsequent false alarm after that carries an increasing fine.

Halmich said he would be in favor of reducing the number of “free” false alarms.

False alarms that are the result of weather events or something like a kid pulling the alarm doesn’t count toward the fines.

The current fine system calls for a $25 fine for the third false alarm, a $50 fine for the fourth false alarm and five or more false alarms carry a $75 fine each. The fines are supposed to be paid within 30 days or the case will be sent to city court.

Under the proposed ordinance revision, the fines would increase by $25. There would still be two no-fine offenses before the third false alarm would warrant a $50 fine, a fourth alarm would be $75 and five or more would be $100 each.

Hotsenpiller said in 2012 the city collected $6,775 in fines and an additional $720 in court costs related to late payment. In 2013, fines totaled $4,750 with $495 in court costs. The 2014 totals checked in at $3,975 in fines and $259.50 in court costs.

The bulk of the fines were incurred by businesses.

Hotsenpiller said the fines have decreased during her time with the city. She said it used to take her a week to work on citations and now she’s able to get them all done in a day.

One issue Hotsenpiller said she has is residents or businesses can only be fined if they have been notified of the ordinance. She said she sends out the ordinance after the first warning, but in some cases, a business can have additional false alarms before the notice is delivered.

The council talked about ways to properly notify residents and businesses to eliminate the issue. One suggestion was to include the alarm ordinance with occupancy permits.

City Administrator Jim Briggs said Monday’s discussion would be taken under advisement and a revised ordinance should be ready for the council at an April meeting.