Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill looks to limit false alarm calls

False alarms could get more costly in Fort Mill this fall.

Fort Mill Town Council passed a new rule April 11 charging chronic offenders. Penalties will trigger after the third false alarm in a single fiscal year.

The new ordinance is aimed at cutting down on faulty alarm equipment, whether in commercial or residential units. Often new construction can prompt false alarms to public safety, and it isn’t just commercial or residential construction.

“It’s a good mix right now,” said Chipper Wilkerson, fire chief.

The warning and penalties only would apply to true false alarms, not calls where an emergency may have been resolved prior to firefighters or police arriving. So smoke from an overcooked dinner setting off an alarm wouldn’t draw a fine, but an alarm system malfunctioning could.

“Anything from a fire perspective that a fire alarm does its job, would not,” Wilkerson said.

Councilman Chris Moody cast the only vote against the move April 11, after an amendment was added to wait until Oct. 1 before implementing the rule. But Moody believes the effort to cut down on false alarms makes sense.

“Any time we get a false alarm we have to use our manpower, gas, cars,” he said. “There’s wear and tear.”

Until Oct. 1, the town will give out information on how to avoid false alarms. A second false alarm at the same site in a given year will prompt a letter to the property owner explaining the rules and suggesting corrective measures.

A third, fourth or fifth false alarm within the year will cost $50. The sixth or seventh will cost $100 and the eighth or ninth, $200. A 10th or subsequent false alarm will cost $500.

A keyholder for a property triggering a false alarm must be on-site within 30 minutes of notification from firefighters or law enforcement, or a $100 charge will result regardless of how many false alarms the property had previously.

Dennis Pieper, town manager, said there won’t be any new budgeting line items as a result.

“We’re not budgeting based on this,” he said. “There’s no way to guess what (revenue from fines) would be.”

Increasing town revenue isn’t the point of the new rule, he said.

“We’re not going to try to make money off this,” Pieper said. “It’s a deterrent.”

According to the ordinance, a false alarm is any activation of a fire, burglary, robbery or similar alarm system resulting in a response by public safety personnel. Fines could apply to a company or firm owning a building, but also a tenant, lessee or agent operating an alarm system within a larger building.

The year-long period would coincide with the town’s fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.

Per state law, anyone who intentionally sets off a false alarm will be charged with a misdemeanor and a fine or jail time.