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Local fire department offering monitoring services and promoted by Fire Marshals
May 23, 2022
Local fire department offering monitoring services and promoted by Fire Marshals
         I recently received a call from one of our customers who has multiple accounts with us.  They are building a new location and we are installing/monitoring the fire and security system at this location for them.  Our customer stated the Fire Marshal stopped by the job site and explained to our customer that they should be monitoring the site for them (and not us) because the signal will go directly to the fire department eliminating the middle man (Our Central Station) which will speed up the dispatch time, saving property damage and maybe lives. 
          I called that Fire Marshall and he told me they charge a onetime fee of roughly $3,800 for their “Call Box” and a $200 “Maintenance Fee” per year to handle the monitoring.  The integrator (us) needs to provide the outputs to his call box to trigger a generic alarm signal.  Their service would eliminate the need for our Monitoring Response Center. 
     Aside from being pissed that we now have to compete against our local municipalities, how can they get away with this meeting code?
  *  No way for this set-up to transmit Point ID
  *  These “Call Boxes” have no way of self-testing
  *  I was told they work off an existing wire loop and report a simple 3 digit code to identify where the alarm signal is coming from
  *  No way for the installed Fire Alarm System to send a daily test
          Thank you
          This is an interesting legal issue, from several perspectives.  Whether the FD can provide code compliant monitoring is beyond my expertise.  Hopefully the fire alarm experts can weigh in on this topic.
          Fire Departments offering monitoring is not a new phenomenon.  One issue that I think comes up is whether the Fire Department requires fire alarm customers to use the municipal service instead of or perhaps together with professional monitoring.  I know that Illinois had this issue [not sure how it turned out].  I know that Rockland County, New York, requires fire alarms to come directly to the Fire Department operated call center.  I suspect there are other municipalities that have entered the ‘monitoring business” under the guise of providing “better and faster” response time.  I admit I am skeptical and suspect these operations are just another avenue for patronage.  Government is not exactly known for efficient service or cost saving services, so I am not so sure providing fire alarm monitoring will be any different.  Obviously a fire alarm signal will travel to one point faster than it can travel from point A [monitoring center] to point B [Fire Department dispatch center]. I’m not sure how many seconds or minutes might be saved if the signal goes directly to the Fire Department, nor do I know whether there is any difference with false alarms or notification to the customer.   One can only assume that the municipality undertook a costly investigation with hired consultants to assist with the decision to receive fire alarm directly.  I’d be curious if any professional central stations or alarm dealers were asked to contribute to the investigation and final recommendation to the municipality.
          When government decides to engage in “business”, even under the guise of providing police or fire protection it likely crosses the line and loses governmental immunity.  That means the municipality will be held accountable for its negligent performance.  Of course the municipality can contract its terms of service; I don’t know if they do. 
          It sounds like the jurisdiction referred to in the above question is not requiring fire alarm signals to go to its operated monitoring center, like Rockland County, NY does.  Whether the municipality can compete with the private alarm industry remains to be seen.  Seems like the municipality is still relying on the local alarm companies for the communication hook-up, and certainly relies on the local companies for installation and repair service. Whether private alarm companies will continue to service customers who choose to be monitored by a municipality will be interesting to watch.  I suppose as long as one of them is willing to service the customers the municipalities will be able to perform just the monitoring. 
          There should be a law prohibiting government to compete with private business, but I don’t know of such law as it pertains to the alarm industry.  Maybe the alarm industry should offer private police [with full police powers] and fire fighters who have the exclusive or at least concurrent jurisdiction to fight fires.  Wonder how that would work?  Actually I recall a scene in Gangs of New York when the private fire-fighting companies competed getting to a fire in NYC.  Apparently the “right” to lute the place was the prize for getting to the scene of the fire first.

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Ken Kirschenbaum,Esq
Kirschenbaum & Kirschenbaum PC
Attorneys at Law
200 Garden City Plaza
Garden City, NY 11530
516 747 6700 x 301