BILLINGS — Commercial property owners in Billings with too many false burglar alarms or fire alarms will be charged a $250 fee after the start of the new year, after a unanimous vote in the Billings City Council's Monday night meeting.
“The purpose of it, it’s not to generate revenue for the city. The purpose of it is to motivate fire alarm system owners to not generate false alarms and to be a little more careful with their systems," said Billings Fire Marshal Mike Spini.
Between 2018 and 2020 on average, the Billings Fire Department responds to 833 false alarms, Spini said. They make up about 5.5 percent of the department's total call volume of about 16,000 per year.
A false alarm call can take an engine out of service for a period of time, leaving its area of the city left to be covered by crews from other fire stations, Spini said.
“It’s more than just that one engine. It affects the whole department across the board because you’re now taking an engine out of service to deal with that and there may be another call in their area where another fire station will have to respond to it," Spini said.
Commercial property owners will be charged $250 on their third and every subsequent false fire alarm or false police alarm.
The false alarms are broken into two categories for police and fire responses that will be reset yearly. For example, a commercial property owner can have two fire false alarms and the third will result in a fine, while at the same time they might only have had one false burglary alarm that year.
Spini said he has a top 10 list of the worst offenders. On the high end, some commercial properties have 29 false alarm calls per year and some have nine per year on the low end.
“The benefit would be limiting those false alarm responses which frees up resources for both the police and fire department to respond to true emergencies," Spini said.
For the police department, the false burglar alarm calls are more staggering. Billings Police Lt. Shawn Mayo said so far in 2021, Billings police have received 3,333 burglar alarm calls, nearly half of the calls were noted by officers to be alarm malfunctions at 1,613.
Trouble is every burglar alarm is considered an in-progress event, meaning a quick response from officers, and say a non-injury car crash might get pushed farther down the priority list.
“If you have something of a suspicious (call) or maybe a non injury accident. Those calls will hopefully have more attention paid to them a little bit quicker so we have a reduced number of alarms, therefore you have a quicker response to the others," Mayo said.
Generally two officers are sent to a burglary alarm and sometimes more depending on the circumstances of the alarm. That can quickly stretch the patrol officers on shift,
Based on other communities who have implemented similar policy, Spini said they hope to have a 25 percent drop in the overall false alarm calls within the first year.