By Tim Horan

The Salina Journal

Salina police responded to 2,453 false alarms in 2013;fire department had 185

False alarms cost the city of Salina more than $65,000 in 2013, Police Chief Brad Nelson and Fire Chief Larry Mullikin told Salina city commissioners at a study session Monday afternoon.

Both campaigned for an ordinance that would impose fines in an effort to reduce the number of false alarms city police and fire crews respond to.

The city commission took no action but agreed to review an ordinance that addresses false alarms.

Nelson said such an ordinance should require yearly registration and permits, with the fee waived if there were no false alarms the previous year. He suggested no fine for the first two false alarms; a $50 fine for the third false alarm, and a $25 increase in the fine for each subsequent false alarm.

99 percent are false alarms

Nelson said that in the past five years, the Salina Police Department has responded to 11,085 alarm calls -- 99 percent of which were false.

Nelson said 20 percent of the alarm owners are responsible for 80 percent of the false alarms.

"All I want to do is reduce the number of false alarms," he said. "There is no incentive to not have them."

Mullikin said it was important that alarms be registered, and that such registration include the name of the company that works on the system and who should be called for information. He also would like to see a limit on the number of free false alarms and a requirement that homeowners and companies address problem systems.

The cost of false alarms

Nelson said that in 2013, Salina police responded to 2,453 false alarms, costing an estimated $48,527 just in officer salary. He said that was a conservative estimate.

"Most of the commercial calls are after hours and we have to wait for the owner to get there," Nelson said.

Mullikin said the fire department responded to 185 false alarms in 2013, costing between $15,000 and $18,000.

He also said the fire department spends a lot of time waiting for owners to show up in response to alarms.

"Are there a lot of systems that have two or three false alarms a year?" Commissioner Randall Hardy asked.

"There are some that have two or three a week," Mullikin said.

What is a false alarm?

Mullikin defined a false alarm as a notification made to the 911 dispatcher via an alarm company in which the fire department is dispatched and which turns out to be a system malfunction or an intentional or unintentional tripping of the alarm systems by human or other means.

He said if the alarm system detects heat, smoke or steam, it is not a false alarm.

"For example, if a system detects burned toast or popcorn and is activated, those are not false alarms," he said.

Mullikin said an ordinance could reduce the number of false alarms, which not only waste resources but endanger the public. He showed a minute-long film of a fire that spread rapidity in the time the fire department could be on a false run.

Many result from aging systems

Salina Fire Marshal Roger Williams said many false alarms are the result of aging alarm systems and changes made to alarm systems without fire department notification.

"We have teeth but not a lot of bite," he said, when it comes to regulating fire alarms.

Nelson said that of Kansas' top 10 cities, with Salina being the 10th, six have ordinances that require alarm permits.

"We're not doing something new or innovating," he said. "It's being done nationwide."

Nelson also said the police department monitors 200 alarms, with 150 owners being billed for the service.

He wants to see that operation taken over by a private alarm-monitoring company.

(c)2014 The Salina Journal