Illinois town to require radio monitoring of new fire alarms

Under a recently approved measure by trustees in the Village of Mount Prospect, Ill., all new commercial fire alarm systems installed in the city will soon be required to be connected to the local dispatch center via a radio monitoring signal.

According to an internal fire department memo provided to SIW by the Illinois Electronic Security Association, Mount Prospect Fire Marshal Bryan Loomis in November recommended that the village change its current fire prevention code in an ordinance to allow for radio monitoring of fire alarms and require that all newly installed fire alarm systems be monitored via radio by Northwest Central Dispatch (NWCD) beginning after March 1, 2012. Those with existing systems will not be required to switch to the new radio monitoring system. Click here to read the memo in its entirety.

"The ordinance change would also indicate that radio monitoring would only be allowed through NWC and their corresponding' monitoring contractor," Loomis wrote in the memo.

Business owners will be charged $90 per month in monitoring fees, which according to the memo is "significantly less than businesses and organizations currently pay in monthly phone line and monitoring fees." The memo states that $45 of this fee would split between ADT and NWCD for monitoring. Another $40 would go to ADT for radio leasing and there would also be a $5 per month radio maintenance fee.

The rationale for requiring a radio monitoring system, according to the memo, is that it can create a reliable direct connection with the dispatch center at a more affordable cost than dedicated phone lines, which are prone to technical issues such as grounding failures. In addition, the memo cites the potential for delays in fire alarms signals being sent to NWCD using a central monitoring station system.

"The time it takes for a fire alarm signal to reach a central station, which can be located anywhere in the United States, can extend up to five and even ten minutes," the memo states. This delay in transmission time can translate into a significant delay in dispatching the fire department."

IESA Executive Director Kevin Lehan refutes the arguments laid out in the memo for implementing the radio monitoring network.

"It is a very self-serving document that is factually incorrect," Lehan said. "This document was written to advance an agenda and that agenda is to enter the fire alarm monitoring business to gain the revenue stream. The arguments that are put forth are not valid."

For example, Lehan said that the radio technology that the city will be migrating to is not really all that new and that while moving away from direct connect copper lines is a good idea, there are wireless mesh radio networks currently available in the area from companies in the private sector. He also said the memo is also incorrect about how fire alarm signals are directed from central stations to dispatch centers.

"When you're talking about the signal reaching the central station or the signal being directed to Northwest Community Dispatch, NFPA 72 is quite clear that they must immediately start the dispatch process," Lehan explained.

Lehan added that the monitoring fee that will be paid by business owners is also two to three times higher than the current market rate.

"The costs that they are talking about are extraordinary. Whatever split between the alarm contracting company and the city, it's not definitive in this document, but with 350 commercial accounts, we're looking at significant dollars and the government is choosing a single vendor to be the beneficiary and that's never a good idea," Lehan said. "The private sector and the free enterprise system will always deliver superior service and competitive price. When there is only one game in town, there is no price pressure. There is no price correction. When the government is selecting the winners and losers and in this case they have, it is going to be the end-user that is ultimately the loser and that's a shame."

"We're not involved in the monitoring fees or anything, we're just allowing wireless radio alarms," said Mount Prospect Fire Chief John Malcolm when reached for comment. "Basically, the change was that our current code did not allow radio and we've had a lot of customers asking for it, so we changed the code to allow radio networks and the only piece is that it has to go back to our 911 center."

An email seeking further comment from Malcolm was not returned as of press time Friday.