No Monitoring By Fire Departments

Two recent actions in the state of Illinois point to a disturbing situation that the security industry needs to pay close attention to: Fire departments setting up monitoring centers for signaling services. Our industry should oppose this move for several reasons.

We have faced this issue for burglar alarms in several jurisdictions across the U.S. The principles we applied in those cases should also apply to fire. First, public institutions like local governments (fire departments) should not be in the business of competing with the private sector. The two entities have entirely different roles. The private sector provides goods and services for profit. Government serves the people they govern.

SIAC supports the fire services provided by departments and their critical role in protecting public safety. But, clearly there should not be “competition” between city agencies and the private sector.

Secondly, a government agency does not have the experience or expertise to operate a monitoring center as effectively as a privately run business. What equipment use, how to handle signals effectively and filtering calls are all areas of expertise the security monitoring industry lends to the equation. Fire Departments are not trained or knowledgeable in these areas. A city monitoring center would not be adequately prepared to address the nature of the workload.

Finally, if cities decide to get into the fire monitoring business, they face increased liability issues. By going outside their primary services, they raise the potential for lawsuits from customers.

We understand the need for local governments to have a steady resource base to support the services required to protect their community. But these cities should reconsider moving into the fire monitoring business. Our industry must continue to monitor this, and engage local officials, to ensure the best decision is made that weds public protection to the business services we offer.

What’s your opinion? Let us know by responding in the comments section of this blog.


Executive Director of SIAC
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8 Responses to No Monitoring By Fire Departments

  1. desi arnaiz says:

    I am afraid the arguments are weak. Governement agencies do compete. For now assume the government agency beleives it can monitor better than private industry?
    Well what does monitoring fire alarm systems have to do with responding to a fire. Nothing right, but the FD’s will say we will hire and train folks to monitor – right? Well then what they have done is duplicated and maybe replicated a private sector operation. So the question then is at the heart and that is what needs to be attacked.
    Where is the motivation to do great and be great? Where is the incentive center of gravity? Explain to me why a group of “outsiders” – afterall they are not firemen, and can not proceed up the promotion chain is motivated to do well? How do you incentivize them? One of you some day will be shift boss! Really? IN a private sector company, career paths are numerous and nearly all players can be incentivized to all they be! So the government team really becomes disinterested robots either waiting to become firemen or obtaining placement in a private sector company.

    Ah but the FD’s would counter by stating we will put train fire staff in the monitoring function. Really. Convince me that certified fire staff want to placed in the penalty box. Oh well, what we will do is place our disabled or suspended staff in penalty box. Really. Sell that to the general public. You are going to put your incapables and misfits in a postion to monitor fire alarm systems, why if a private sector company did that or advertised that they would be out business in a New York minute.

  2. Bob Bradbury says:

    Fire Departments and other public agencies have NO business trying to monitor any alarms. Period. Even if they only monitor alarms in their service area, they are not trained to properly handle an alarm issue. I understand that they see monitoring as a source of revenue, but the points made in the article are quite valid. The public sector should not be competing with the private sector.

    I know there are still Fire Departments and Police Departments that monitor fire alarms or police alarms via leased lines. However, if these receivers are located in a dispatch center, then the operator(s) on duty for dispatching have other duties and don’t always pay close attention to alarm receivers. Plus, with many of us in this business going to internet monitoring, the question arises as to whether the public agencies really want to invest in the required equipment–receivers, computers, interface equipment and so forth. Also, who’s going to provide proper training? And if you happen to need a UL monitoring center, most public dispatch offices do not meet the UL requirements. Another thing, the response time of a public agency monitoring alarms will not be any faster than the response of a private monitoring service by more than a few seconds.

    Even tho’ I have been a firefighter I do NOT go for the idea of ANY public agency monitoring any alarms except maybe their own buildings.

  3. W David Smith says:

    Once again a government agency thinks they can do a better job than the private sector. All we (alarm companies) need to do is refuse to install or service the equipment that they monitor. We do have some control over our industry don’t we!

  4. Chris Copeland says:

    I own an security business. I also work in an fire dept 3 day a week, 33 years, I undestand that Fire dept monitoring is in direct conflic with privite alarm monitoring companys. But I am sure when you say Fire dept monitoring this includes the 911 dispatch center and I a sure you these people are just as qualitfied if not more than the privite monitoring companys. When the 911 center receives the call, their only one but away from paging out the fire alarm, this will save responce time.

    • SIAC INC says:

      In response to those who believe it’s okay for these agencies to be in the monitoring business: Setting aside the unfair competition issue, let me clarify… It’s not that the current 911 people can’t be trained or that they are not qualified or even that the right equipment can be purchased. That is all possible. The point is in the majority of these cases, the agencies that want this piece of the pie are trying to over-simplify, minimize or just don’t understand the degree of professional commitment, on-going cost and training and experience required to set-up and maintain these highly efficient professional monitoring centers. They are focused only on the revenue, not public safety, not on the details.

      Fact: Our people, systems, standards and call routing protocols know how to deal with each and every signal processed, and they do it quickly. Equipment and standards are ever-changing; procedures and training are constantly being improved by our industry and experiences processed through ESA, CSAA, SIA and CANASA. Will these departments keep up with current technology, software upgrades, new equipment? Are these 911 centers prepared for various technical system generated codes that will be received in signal processing?

      I have not seen a business plan or proposal from agencies that addresses any of these issues and concerns. They usually only show the potential revenue they expect to receive. How long would anyone on the private business side survive without taking all the expense/costs from a new initiative into account? I believe it is about as insulting to us as it would be to a firefighter for us to say about their profession “…anybody can do that – all you do is throw some water on a fire – how hard can that be” or to a 911 operator “all you do is answer the phone and select one of three choices: fire, medical or police, the computer does the rest.” I have deep respect for these professionals, just making a point here.

      Simply stated, I think each profession should stick to what they do best, keeping public safety and the highest degree of service to the customer/citizen in the forefront of any consideration.

  5. Bill says:

    Isn’t it written somewhere that since the salaries of the PD/FD in each city/county are paid by the taxpayers in that city/county and it is illeagal to profit off goods and services from these taxpayers, and they should have the choice to whom they what to give their money to. Some municipalities are trying to make it manditory if you are in their jurisdiction, that you have to monitored by their board and this is not right…

  6. Wayne Boggs says:

    Having operated a monitoring center for over 30 years I find it laughable that fire or police authorities believe they can offer monitoring services regardless of how small the base of systems they set. As SIAC has noted, we filter 92% of the activity before dispatching, but that 92% incorporates important, critical signal activity. We provide some services to localities in our area who do their own monitoring, so I can speak from experience when I say that they ignore trouble signals, their receivers and software are always outdated, and they simply ignore anything they don’t understand. What private business could afford to ignore anything it didn’t want to handle?

    Give authorities the monitoring operation and you give up all that data that gets compiled in a professional monitoring center; data that is used to reduce false alarms, correct equipment problems, and provide peace of mind to users.

    Specifically, in the case of fire alarm systems, how will the dispatchers handle the user who simply allows the smoke detectors to generate trouble signals daily rather than have the necessary repairs done? Or what happens when the system fails to test for three days straight? I assume they will simply turn off the monitoring service. I guess that does force the users to have their systems repaired or properly maintained. Maybe the end result will be that we can sell more service contracts to replace the monitoring revenue. Or maybe the result will simply be more unprotected facilities.

  7. David Wilson says:

    I would concur with just about all of the comments posted on this issue. However, I recently had a run in with a Fire District in CT, that point blank indicated that they hate alarm companies and think that they all suck! Some suck more than others and some suck less! This is what they said to me during a sales call. I was “invited” to look at some work that had to be done due to code compliance issues for their own fire station buildings. My company was not specifically singled out as we are generally considered one of the good guys. However, after digging deeper into the issue, I found out that they were concerned with all of the calls that come into their dispatch center with incomplete address information and NO KEY HOLDER information at all. They claim that they are dispatched all over the place 24/7 and that they waste valuable resources and critical response time trying to figure out where they are going and then how to get in.

    As a solution, I offered help in establishing a District wide fire alarm ordinance to assist in gathering the required information etc. I also offered them and will be conducting some training classes for the members of the Fire Departments within their District.

    Hopefully by my reaching out to them I / we can turn them around. This attitude is nothing new to the industry whether burg or fire due to the bad apples out there. They install too many systems, too fast with no regard for the processes and or code compliance that are required to make that alarm system a productive and efficient account. That includes, being sure that all dispatch information is accurate and timely. If and when that information changes, having an internal process to get it updated as needed.

    I am sure that this posting is essentially preaching to the choir. In the end, we all need to reach out to these Departments and Districts to create a change of attitude and then we can be sure that this issue will not come up nearly as often.

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