Last week, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling upholding a previous injunction against the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District which prohibits them from enforcing an ordinance that required fire alarm signals to be transmitted to a system run by the district rather than privately-run central stations.
In September 2009, the district, which consists of the suburban Chicago towns of Lisle and Woodridge, passed an ordinance requiring all commercial fire alarm system owners in the area to terminate their existing monitoring contracts and switch to a system owned and operated by the district. The following summer, five private alarm companies including ADT, Alarm Detection Systems, D.M.C. Security Services, Illinois Alarm Services and SMG Security Systems, filed a lawsuit against the district alleging violations of state laws, as well as federal antitrust laws.
In the 50-page opinion released last week, the court found that not only did the ordinance violate boundaries established by the Illinois Fire Protection District Act, but that the district’s system was not on par with that of private companies. “Moreover, the facts have revealed that the district’s system is less reliable and more dangerous than the private alarm companies’ systems, does not comply with NFPA standards, and interferes with the plaintiffs’ ability to serve their customers,” the ruling stated.
“Since it’s a ruling of the 7th circuit, it really sets the controlling law for Illinois and any similar mandated fire alarm monitoring by a fire protection district, and any charges by a fire protection district for fire alarm monitoring would be illegal based on this opinion,” said Bruce Goldsmith, an attorney at the Dykema law firm who headed up a team of lawyers representing Alarm Detection Systems and three other alarm companies in the case.
According to Kevin Lehan, executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association and spokesman for EMERgency 24, there are a dozen or so other districts in the state that have enacted ordinances similar to Lisle-Woodridge.
“I think those fire protection districts are going to have to think and weigh the decision and how they want to go forward,” Lehan said. “The last thing the industry wants to do right now is be antagonistic towards the fire services and that includes fire departments and fire districts, but it has been established in a court of law that fire protection districts are not empowered to even provide this service. They’re not empowered to collect a fee from constituents. They’re only a taxing body and they don’t have (alarm monitoring) powers given to them by the fire protection act of Illinois, so those communities are going to have to decide, probably soon, what they’re going to do with their ordinances.”
Goldsmith said establishing mandated fire alarm communication systems is not allowed under any state statutes in Illinois and that while most people talk about safety concerns when they pass these types of ordinances, they are really “revenue generating devices” for fire districts. “Hopefully, (this ruling) is going to eliminate this model where municipalities and fire protection districts try to take over a private business and operate it for their own benefit,” Goldsmith said.
Since this case has come about, Lehan said there has definitely been a “slowdown” in the number of communities trying to pass similar measures.
Lehan believes this issue will eventually have to be solved legislatively in Illinois. “It’s a much more efficient process than the judicial process,” he said. You can get a better compromise and really work out the best (solution) for public safety and that’s what we are trying to establish - the best practices for public safety and communities of all sizes.”
A call seeking comment from the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District was not immediately returned as of Thursday afternoon.