COVINGTON, Ga. - The Covington City Council unanimously approved the first reading of a new ordinance presented by the Covington Fire Department (CFD) that would introduce a fine to commercial or industrial businesses with repeat false alarm incidents starting Sept. 1.
“In 2016 we ran a total of 3,008 calls through the fire service,” CFD Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal Joe Doss Said. “Of those calls, 282 were false alarms which equaled out to not quire 10 percent, its 9.3 percent. Of that, our top five addresses that we responded to totaled out to 79 of those 282 calls, or 28 percent at just five addresses. That’s what we’re trying avoid.”
Within the ordinance, addresses will not be fined for the first three false alarms within a 12-month period. Subsequent alarms will be fined as follows: fourth = $50, fifth = $100, sixth = $150, seventh = $200, eighth = $250, ninth or more will be no less than $500.
The ordinance will also help fire officials correctly diagnose the problems with fire systems while on location by adding a fee for alarms reset prior to the arrival of any fire official. The first reset will have no fine, but subsequent resets will be fined as follows: second = $50, third = $100, fourth = $150, fifth and more will not be more than $250.
CFD Chief Stoney Bowles compared resetting an alarm to a teacher erasing a math problem off the board and asking for a solution before you were able to copy it down.
“I think what will happen is the people who need to have a change in behavior will quickly understand that we need to change our behavior and we can’t continue to operate the ‘I don’t really care, let me hit the button and turn it off,’ because the fire department is going to come anyway,” City Manager Leigh Anne Knight said.
Doss said it was important to inform the industrial and commercial locations about the change in ordinance and that is why there will not be a fee for to start off with.
“Really it’s a nuisance alarm issue,” Bowles said. “It’s not a malicious alarm where a kid pulls a pull station, that’s not the issue. That alarm worked just like it was supposed to. This is a false alarm that we are responding to.”
Bowles said constantly responding to the same addresses for false alarms creates complacency for firefighters.
“It does create complacency on their part and our part,” he said.
“We certainly become more reliable,” he said. “That’s the key word, reliability goes up when we’re not out at a false alarm. If ‘Mrs. Jones’ needs us and we’re at a false alarm we’re not reliable to ‘Mrs. Jones.’”
Bowles said typically, the fire department does not see the same number of repeat false alarm incidents in residential locations, as compared to industrial or commercial.
Councilman Chris Smith said he was concerned that three false alarms were not enough of a warning period before implementing the first fee. He suggested it be increased to six per 12-month period.
Bowles said the fees were comparable to other Metro Atlanta departments, which he had similar service compared to CFD.
The council will have a second chance to review and make changes to the ordinance in its second reading, which is scheduled for the July 3 at 6:30 p.m. at Covington City Hall.