Wildfires test security firms’ limits

Monday, December 1, 2003

LOS ANGELES - Despite the threat, many security companies in the area came away from the California wildfires in October and early November nearly unscathed, with only a few companies reporting that some of their alarm customers lost their homes.

All Protection Alarm in Big Bear, Calif., was one of the fortunate ones, after fire not only threatened the company’s entire base of 2,500 customers in this mountain town resort area, but also the business itself.

At one point, fire approached the company’s office from three different directions and employees were told to evacuate the facility. But Paul Bedoe, president and owner of All Protection Alarm, his wife and a central station employee and technician stayed.

The company enlisted the help of a local plumber and private investigation firm to respond to alarms or properly latch doors, since employees from All Protection Alarm could not leave the facility and the local sheriff’s department could not respond.

Protection Service Industries of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., on the other hand, reported that more than 50 of its customers lost their houses, but none of the company’s employees reported that their home was destroyed by fire.

The company serves between 1,500 and 2,000 customers in the affected areas, such as in San Bernardino and San Diego County, said Bill Romano, director of marketing and customer retention for PSI.

“Luckily we only had 50 people who sustained either heavy damage or complete loss,” said Romano.

He said the company has suspended billing and contracts to those customers and plans to offer them a retrofit security system at no charge.

The California wildfires burned more than 743,000 acres, claimed 22 lives and destroyed more than 3,570 homes, according to the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.