Fire Chief Bill Madore is proposing an ordinance that would see businesses or contractors with multiple false alarm offenses in a calendar year be subject to fines.
In a given year, the Hannibal Fire Department will answer around 1,800 calls. Roughly 8 percent of those responses will fall into the false alarm category, with many prompted by fire alarms that were activated inadvertently. To help curb the number of needless runs, Fire Chief Bill Madore is proposing an ordinance that would see businesses or contractors with multiple false alarm offenses in a calendar year be subject to fines.
While penalties are included in the proposal, it is not intended to be a money-making venture.
"Absolutely not," said Madore. "With this ordinance there has to be sanctions in situations of non-compliance, therefore there is in place monetary fines, but my hope is that we take more of a pro-active approach both at the Fire Department level and citizen business-owner level to ensure the fire alarm systems are functioning properly and maintained. That is my ultimate goal, compliance, not to generate revenue."
The fee for a false fire alarm caused by an on-site alarm contractor would be $100 per offense. As for businesses/industries, the penalty would begin at $50 on the third offense in a calendar year. The fee would increase to $300 for 10 offenses in a calendar year.
While residences could be subject to the nuisance fees, most homes would likely not be impacted, according to the fire chief.
"For the most part it will affect the contractors who work on these systems and the businesses that have these systems in place. They're more prevalent on the commercial side than the residential side in the city of Hannibal," said Madore.
There is a laundry list of reasons behind the ordinance - potential for accidents every time trucks respond, lost man hours, fuel costs, vehicle wear and the general apathy that multiple false alarms can create in responders and citizens.
"If there is a facility with a rash of false alarms when that next fire alarm comes in they may not fully evacuate the building, thinking it's just another false alarm. That poses serious consequences should there be a real emergency at that facility," said Madore.
Hannibal is playing catch-up in regard to passing a fire alarm nuisance ordinance.
"Most municipalities that have an adopted fire code have some sort of nuisance alarm legislation already in place. I feel we're catching up with the industry in that fashion. The International Association of Fire Chiefs actually advocated a nuisance alarm policy as early as 2009," said Madore.
Madore admits he has thought about bringing the proposal forward for "several years."
"It's something I recognized even when I was on shift responding to everyday calls," he said.
Mayor Roy Hark, a firefighter for 32 years, says consideration was given to such an ordinance during his time with the department.
"We thought about it, but the Council at that time said they didn't know if we should or shouldn't," said Hark, who was Hannibal's fire chief from July 1989 to July 1998. "With today's alarm systems and the way they're designed, there's really not too much reason for this (nuisance alarms) to happen."
In addition to Hark's support, the measure also has the backing of Councilman Mike Dobson, chief of the Hannibal Rural Fire Protection District.
"I support him 100 percent. I know exactly where he's at," said Dobson. "It will make people stop and think when they're working on their (fire alarm) systems that they need to make a phone call to 911 or down to the Fire Department."
The proposal will go before the City Council for a second reading at its June 18 meeting.
"It would take effect immediately. However, we are going to conduct some outreach with local businesses and explain to them the process and what we're looking for, and answer any questions they may have concerning the process," said Madore, who anticipates the "outreach period" taking approximately 30 days.