Municipal fire alarm monitoring battle not over in Illinois

March 13, 2015
Despite litigation coming to a close, senate bills spark new fight in state

Two years ago, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction against the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District in Illinois prohibiting the district, which is compromised of the suburban Chicago towns of Lisle and Woodridge, from enforcing an ordinance that required fire alarm signals in the area to be transmitted to a system run by the district rather privately-run central stations. While the court’s ruling initially seemed to have stymied the ambitions of fire districts throughout the state from pursing similar policies, alarm dealers once again find themselves trying to keep the government from encroaching on their businesses.

Two bills recently introduced in the Illinois General Assembly – SB 1495 and SB 1685 – could have major ramifications on both fire alarm installation and monitoring firms in the state. SB 1495 would amend the Fire Protection District Act to allow the board of trustees of any fire protection district to adopt ordinances regulating the supervision and monitoring of fire alarm systems maintained within the district. This would essentially address the court’s ruling in the Lisle-Woodridge case that the district violated boundaries set forth in the Fire Protection District Act. The other bill, SB 1685, would require fire alarm system designers in the state to have a NICET Level 3 certification or higher. Being that there are only 147 persons certified in the state at this level or higher, this legislation would essentially prohibit at least 80 percent of existing private alarm contractors in Illinois from continuing to offer fire alarm design and installation services.

According to Kevin Lehan, executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association, since the appellate court upheld the modified permanent injunction against Lisle-Woodridge in 2013, there have been several fire protection districts that have either left or abandoned plans to require municipal monitoring of alarms.  

“They’ve done so in various ways, some have just opened up the competition while others have tried methods such as selling their network to the community,” said Lehan, who also serves as manager of public relations for EMERgency24. “What we fear now is should (SB 1495) pass, each one of those districts that had previously been in it or are currently trying to exit the market will dig in their heels and they will certainly go forward or re-enter the market. That will take away thousands of potential customers for private alarm contractors in the state of Illinois.”

Lehan said the other bill, SB 1685, would create dual licensure to be able to perform fire design, inspection, and installation work in the state.

“It would, in effect, break our existing licensure into a license for fire and a license for burglar (alarms). The way this is written, the proposed law would supersede the existing law that has been in place since Jan. 1 of 1984,” explained Lehan. “There is absolutely no reason why this bill should go forward and it is creating a false crisis because there is no life safety issue that we are facing here in Illinois.”

Having fended off past attempts by local authorities to enter the fire alarm monitoring business – either by coming together to defeat ordinances or by filing lawsuits as happened in the Lisle-Woodridge case – Lehan said there is a growing sense of frustration among dealers in the state who yet again face a legislative battle to preserve their livelihood.

“We have successfully stopped a bill that was similar to this in 2011.  U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur ruled in favor of the industry in 2012 (in the Lisle-Woodridge lawsuit), the appellate court in 2013 agreed with Judge Shadur’s decision and here we are in 2015 trying to stop two bills that are attacking our industry,” added Lehan. “They are trying to cut into our revenue stream and minimize who is allowed to participate in the market. It is greatly frustrating for these business people.”

Last month, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois awarded Alarm Detection Systems (ADS), one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit brought against Lisle-Woodridge, a $2.13 million judgment for attorney’s fee. According to David Bressler, an attorney with the Dykema law firm, the award has effectively brought litigation in the Lisle-Woodridge case to a close, however, there is at least one other case the firm still has pending in the state.  

“We have one that is pending against three fire protection districts for engaging in similar, albeit not identical conduct,” said Bressler. “The case that is pending has to do with the manner in which they, at least two of the districts, extricated themselves from business after the court ruled in the Lisle case.”

Bressler said in the areas where fire protection districts have monopolized the monitoring of fire alarm systems that they have kept anyone that is not their selected carrier out of the market.

“For example, in the Lisle case, they designated one provider to be the exclusive equipment supplier and servicer and everything like that, so every other competitor in the business is knocked out in that geographic area,” added Bressler. “That has been the practical effect and obviously the larger the fire protection district the larger the impact is going to be on competition.”

As part of an effort to voice opposition to these pieces of proposed legislation, the IESA will be hosting a Day in Springfield on March 25. Lehan said he expects more than 100 alarm dealers to be in attendance at the event. Should these measures pass in Illinois, Lehan fears it could have a ripple effect across the nation.

“If this passes in Illinois, this will be something that proliferates across the United States,” said Lehan. “In the early 1990s, there were two places you could gamble in the U.S. and that was Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Illinois and Louisiana then passed legislation that allowed riverboat gambling. Today, there are 41 states on which commercially-operated or tribal-operated casinos are allowed. In one generation, all of those states have realized how much potential tax revenue they could gain from casinos. If municipal monitoring passes in Illinois, you can bet that other states will be looking at this as a source of revenue.” 

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief,

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.