Toronto zero-tolerance alarm measure to undergo review

Industry part of working group that will recommend fair policy/ fees for false alarms
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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

TORONTO—In its fight against a new zero-tolerance false alarm regulation here, the Canadian Security Association scored both “a loss and a win” at a March 30 meeting of a City Council subcommittee, CANASA’s executive director JF Champagne told Security System News.

The loss was that, at least for 2011, single family homeowners will not get a break from the city’s 2010 zero-tolerance false alarm by-law that would allow them one free false fire alarm before fines of as much as $1,230 per incident kick in.

However, Champagne said, the “very good victory” is that the city’s Licensing and Standards Committee has directed the fire chief to establish a working group to review the city’s false alarm policy, and the group will include industry representation.

According to the minutes of the meeting, the group, which also will include the fire chief, city councillors and members of the public, is charged with coming up with recommendations for “a fair policy and fee to discourage false fire alarm calls” for the 2012 budget cycle.

“I think we’ve lost the 2011 battle, but we haven’t lost the war,” Champagne told SSN in April.

The Toronto zero-tolerance false alarm by-law is the most onerous such regulation that CANASA, headquartered in Markham, Ontario, is aware of. Champagne said he knows of no others that don’t provide exemptions for single-family homeowners, who, he said, “are not repeat offenders.” Once they have a false alarm issue, they correct it, Champagne said.

Some Toronto residents have reportedly been disconnecting their fire alarms to avoid the high fines required by the zero-tolerance regulation, passed early last year.

Toronto routinely sends three trucks out for each alarm, and at a fee of $350 per truck, the fine has been $1,050.

But as of May 1 this year, the cost climbed to $410 per truck, bringing the total fine to $1,230, according to CANASA. The increase is estimated to bring an additional $1.9 million to city coffers and is one of the ways Toronto’s newly elected mayor is looking to generate new revenues as he slashes city spending.

CANASA earlier this year put out a call to action to its members on the Toronto false alarm issue, and the organization authorized spending up to $50,000 for advocacy.

Champagne spoke at the committee meeting on March 30. He said one compromise proposal he floated was hiking the fee from $410 to $470 per truck in exchange for an exemption for homeowners. That proposal would have kept the additional revenues the city wants to generate intact, but it was not adopted, Champagne said.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby has been trying to persuade the council to go back to a previous city regulation that allowed residents one free false alarm per year. Her motion to that effect at the March 30 meeting did not pass, and a second motion she made to allow single-family homes one free false alarm every four years also was defeated.

However, her third motion to establish the working group carried.