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July 4, 2020
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RP moves to curb false alarms

By: Joshua Farestveit-Moore
May 31, 2019

The Rohnert Park City Council introduced a new false alarm penalty structure at their Tues., May 28 meeting in an effort to curb the number and frequency of automated calls for fire related emergencies. 

The long and short of it is that a bunch of fire detection systems within Rohnert Park barrage its public safety department with near daily false alarms—alarms that can go off at any hour of the day or night and all demand investigation. The calls come mostly from old apartment complexes, businesses, or anywhere else that’s got a poorly maintained automated emergency system. 

“A smoke detector is not an alarm system. It’s a stand-alone device. If it’s monitored off-sight and sends a call to us, then it’s an alarm system,” Civilian Fire Marshal Jim Thompson said.

Anything really can trigger a call; from bugs getting caught in the wires, to dust, to just good ol’ fashioned rain and a leaky roof. According to the RPSC, much of the city was built back in the 80’s and that’s when a lot of these systems were installed. The electronics have degraded over the past 40 years. 

And it’s become quite a nuisance for the RPSC, dragging firefighters out of bed at three in the morning to go investigate a call that they know is a false alarm. Normally this kind of problem would get solved with a slap on the wrist and an angry letter, but the last time Rohnert Park updated its false alarm fee structure was all the way back in the year 1990.

A lot’s changed and the punishments hasn’t kept pace. 

“Typically we’re seeing property owners that have rental properties, and they’ll wait to get their four or five false alarms a year and pay their fifty dollars. It’s easier to simply ignore it than to pay the $500 or so for a service call,” Thompson said. 

Before Tues., there was a five call grace before a person or organization began to climb up the penalty ladder. It started at $50 for five false alarms a year and went all the way up to $100 for nine or more. 

That’s gone. It’s now one call before a property starts to accu

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mulate fees and it climbs a lot faster, starting at $50 for two false alarms and then capping out at $150 for four or more. The RPSC hopes that the new fee structure will incentivize people to properly maintain their emergency systems, or at least call someone to do it for them. 

The trick, then, is keeping all the properties with emergency systems straight. For that, the Rohnert Park City Council mandated that all automated emergency call systems must be registered with the city. There’s a $30 initial registration fee and after that a $15 annual renewal fee. 

“I think it’s great. I work with a lot of commercial owners and they’d rather pay the fifty bucks after the fifth call than fix their alarm system a lot of the times,” Vice Mayor Joseph Callinan said. “I would actually recommend that we look back on this in a year or two and see the effect. That alarm system could save eventually save someone’s building someday and this for their benefit.”

The new ordinance goes into effect immediately. It was voted in with a strong 4-0-1 majority with Mayor Gina Belforte absent.