The Rural Municipality of Hanover is in the process of updating its Fire Prevention Bylaw to include a penalty for false alarms.
Fire Chief Paul Wiebe says his department responds to a significant number of false alarms. Wiebe says he is not referring to calls made to 911 where the "emergency" ended up being nothing. Rather, he is referring to cases where a malfunctioning alarm system automatically dispatches the fire department.
So far in 2022, Hanover has responded to nine false alarms. In all of 2021, there were 51 of these calls, compared to 41 in 2020. There were 53 in 2019 and another 45 in 2018.
Wiebe says after doing some research he realized that most of their neighbouring fire departments and municipalities have a provision in their bylaw that allows them to charge for false alarms. In most cases, a three-strike rule is used.
Wiebe says Hanover is looking to adopt a similar policy. If approved, a residence would be fined $300 after its third false alarm in a calendar year. For each subsequent call in that calendar year, the fine would increase by $100. For a commercial property, the fine would be $500 after the third false alarm in that calendar year and would increase by $100 for each subsequent call.
According to Wiebe, on average it costs their fire department about $1,000 to respond to a false alarm.
"I guess the idea isn't to get our total cost back," he says. "But just to have a bit of a deterrent for some of these occupancies to ensure that their alarm systems are working and are working properly and not sending out false signals."
Again, he stresses that this is not for someone who calls 911.
"If you are calling 911, you don't have to be afraid of getting charged for it," he says. "It's when your alarm company calls us and it's not necessary, calls us and it becomes a false alarm repeatedly. So we have to be clear on that."
Wiebe says of the 51 false alarms in 2021, there were eight different locations that produced anywhere from two to six false alarms each.
"Even if we take out those repeats, that would make a significant dent in the amount of false alarms we attend," he adds.
Wiebe notes in some cases a location is testing their alarm system and forgets to take themselves offline, triggering a call to the fire department. Other times, the false alarm could be avoided if someone on scene would make a quick phone call after determining it to be false.
Wiebe is hopeful this new policy will come into effect in the next month or two.