Plantation -- Crying wolf could get increasingly expensive with the approval of a city ordinance regulating fire and burglar alarms.
The new law, which updates an ordinance passed 11 years ago, requires permits for residential and commercial alarm systems and defines how permits will be dispensed. But the fine structure will likely be the most significant portion of the law, approved last month by the City Council.
Fire-Rescue Department spokesman Battalion Chief Joel Gordon said it was hoped the fines would encourage alarm users -- and installers -- to ensure their systems were functional and stable.
"The ongoing problem is that probably at least 80 percent of our fire calls, on a daily basis, are false alarms," Gordon said. "And by that I mean the buildings' alarm systems go off for no known reason. They're not pulled, there's no smoke, nothing's burning in the microwave. They just go off."
Gordon said the city's response to those calls was both expensive and dangerous, sending ambulances and fire trucks at high speeds along city streets. But there was no alternative.
"When we get an alarm, we are obligated to respond as if it's a major emergency," he said. "We roll multiple units and multiple officers in an emergency mode until someone gets there and determines it's not a true emergency."
Police Chief Larry Massey said the problem was less significant for law enforcement agencies, which generally respond with few units. He said that police, no matter what, would still come when called.
"We would simply like to cut down the number of false alarms, and this new ordinance does address that to some extent," Massey said. "But it's never reached a point where we're going to stop responding to alarms."
The new ordinance requires alarm system users to get a permit for $25, with the installation of an alarm. Annual renewal of the permit will be $10, though the renewal fee can be waived if there were no false alarms reported the previous year.
For false burglar or panic alarms, responded to by the police department, alarm users will be allowed three false alarms a year. A fine of $75 will be levied for the fourth and fifth false alarms, $90 for the sixth false alarm, and $105 for the seventh and subsequent false alarms.
The fire department responds to fire or medical alarms, generally with more personnel and more equipment, so the fines for those calls were greater. While the first three false alarms will be allowed, the fourth alarm will bring a fine of $150, the fifth a fine of $250, the sixth a fine of $400, and the seventh and subsequent calls a fine of $500.
The ordinance also provides for an appeals system, for the revocation of permits, for the licensing of alarm system contractors and for the administration of the permit system.
The fines are steep, Gordon acknowledged, but they are only the most recent in a long string of similar efforts.
"We've tried a number of different things," he said. "We have tried education, we have tried enforcement where we have sent out a fire inspector every time an alarm goes off. We have tried as many passive and customer-friendly methods as we possibly could to reduce the number of alarms. But we're getting alarm companies that aren't servicing them and customers who are trying to alter them.
"We don't know that it's going to improve anything," Gordon said, "but we have to try something to fix this problem."