Delaware fire bill introduced

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Tuesday, April 1, 2003

DOVER, Del. - A bill that would institute tighter restrictions on false fire alarms around the state remains under review by the House Public Safety Committee, after its introduction to state legislators in February.

Prior to its introduction, H.B. 57 was drafted by a task force made up of 12 members, including alarm industry representatives, fire chiefs from around the state, as well as state and local officials in an attempt to address what officials on both sides acknowledge as a high false alarm problem, according to Tony Abbate, president of the Delaware Alarm Association. More than 25 percent of the calls Delaware fire departments responded to in 2002 were a result of a fire alarm system. Of those, 99 percent were false alarms.

Under the terms of the bill, fire installation firms and alarm owners face fines for not complying with the new regulations, which include new restrictions on false alarms as well as tighter controls for fire installers’ system testing.

Despite early alarm industry input, some of the new regulations contained in the bill met with disapproval from state alarm officials.

“The DAA didn’t endorse the bill in its entirety because of the way the bill was drafted,” said Joe Gallagher, chairman of the legislative committee of the Delaware Alarm Association.

For example, monitoring companies must maintain and update annually a contact list of three representatives, designated by the alarm owner, who can meet the fire department at the dwelling within 30 minutes or provide a lockbox at the premises containing keys so the fire department can gain entry. If neither condition is met, a penalty of $100 is charged for each occurrence.

Companies testing systems must also notify the fire dispatch center and monitoring center before tests are performed and when they are completed. Failure to comply with that regulation means a $100 penalty for the first offense and a $500 penalty for the third and each subsequent occurrence.

While Gallagher doesn’t expect the proposed new regulations to impact residential fire systems, commercial systems will bear the brunt.

“If they are the ones responsible for the alarms then they should be targeted,” he said.

State Fire Marshal Willard F. Preston III expects he will testify sometime this spring in front of the committee before the legislative session ends July 1.

If approved, the bill would take effect on Jan. 1, 2004.