Fire monitoring bill raising alarm in Illinois

Proposed legislation would give public fire districts a monopoly over fire monitoring services
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.—The Illinois Electronic Security Association is leading a fight against a new state bill that would give public fire districts sole control over fire alarm monitoring, and says its efforts have received strong support not only from the industry but other business groups.

“The response has been incredible,” Kevin Lehan, executive director of IESA, which is based here, told Security Systems News on Feb. 17.

He said the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the Illinois Retail Merchants Association have all “given us their blessing to list their organizations as opponents of this bill.”

He said the industry and other business groups view the bill “as an overstepping of government. This is a cash grab and nothing more.”

Approximately 500 alarm companies could be negatively impacted, Lehan said.

HB 1301, entitled the “Fire District Antitrust Exemption,” has ignited concern among industry members since it was formally introduced in the General Assembly on Feb. 8.

IESA considers the bill a job-killing, monopoly-creating measure because it would allow fire districts to mandate that all customers in the district use the district’s monitoring business. The group has been urging Illinois alarm dealers and others involved in the industry to contact their elected representatives in Springfield to tell them how passage of the law could decimate their businesses.

“The primary motivation of the proposed bill is to take over an area of private business that took over a hundred years for private industry to build. It is a revenue booster for fire districts. It does not, however, improve response time or increase firefighter safety. As such, HB 1301 should be rejected,” the IESA said in a statement.

Lehan told SSN that the industry believes the bill is “a reaction to the temporary injunction” that a judge issued late last year in favor of security giant ADT and four other security companies, all of whom had sued the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District in federal court.

That Illinois fire district had passed an ordinance putting itself solely in control of commercial fire alarm monitoring in the district. It had declared monitoring contracts ADT and the other companies had with customers to be null and void and required those commercial property owners to contract exclusively with the fire district for fire monitoring through its wireless radio network, paying monitoring fees to the district.

The judge in his ruling—which is under appeal by the fire district—ordered reinstatement of the company contracts, saying the district had no “express authority” in the law to engage in the fire alarm monitoring business.

The new bill would authorize fire districts to take control of fire monitoring and would grant them an exemption to federal antitrust laws.

“They asked for the world, specifically with the antitrust (language),” Lehan said of the scope of the bill.

The measure has gone to the Executive Committee of the House of Representatives, according to Lehan. Now, Lehan said, dealers and licensed alarm contractors have been calling their state representatives “to put pressure on the executive committee to make sure this bill dies there (in committee).”

IESA also plans to have industry members come to Springfield  for a Legislative Day rally on March 16 at 11:30 a.m. IESA's lobbyist will give advice on how members can most effectively speak to lawmakers in person about how the bill “would impact large and small businesses across the state.”

Rep. Donald Moffitt, the 74th District Republican who sponsored the bill, could not be reached for comment by SSN. But supporters of granting fire districts complete authority over a wireless radio network or other network within the district have argued it is a safer and faster way to do fire monitoring.

However, Lehan, who also is public relations manager at Emergency 24, a third-party wholesaler of alarm monitoring services based in Des Plaines, Ill., contends the bill is not about public safety.

“If anything, they will be overwhelmed at 911 centers,” he said. “If every signal that we filter out as a false alarm…goes to the 911 center, there will definitely be a strain on their infrastructure and staffing.”

Among other problems, according to Lehan, is that fire districts won’t provide the latest, safest technology if customers have no choice but to contract with them. “If people aren’t allowed to even look outside, there’s no incentive for the fire district to up their game to improve technology,” he said.

Lehan said lawmakers contacted so far appear to appreciate the industry’s concerns. “The feedback we’ve received so far has been very positive,” he said.

But he cautioned that while IESA has concentrated on this bill because it’s the most “onerous,” the organization is actively monitoring other related bills also up for consideration this session.

“At any moment, even if House Bill 1301 dies in the committee, the same language can be amended to a half dozen bills that pertain to the fire district protection act,” Lehan said.