Alarm industry, fire officials at odds over proposed NFPA 72 revisions

June 19, 2015
Motions that would amend code language to be voted on at annual conference

Update (06-25-15): According to Kevin Lehan, executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association, motion 72-8, which would change Section of the proposed 2016 edition of NFPA 72 back to the original language permitting AHJ approval of monitoring service providers, passed at the NFPA’s annual conference in Chicago on Thursday. SIW original story can be found below:    

Next week, members of the National Fire Protection Association will vote on two motions at the organization’s annual conference to amend language in the proposed 2016 edition of NFPA 72, which could have a significant impact on both privately-run alarm monitoring service providers and municipal fire districts that provide alarm monitoring for businesses and residents in their community.

At issue is language that was changed in Section of the code to read: “Alarm, supervisory, and trouble signals shall be permitted to be received at a listed central supervising station.” However, the previous version of the code added the prerequisite: “When permitted by the Authority Having Jurisdiction,” which gives local governments the ability to choose who can and cannot provide fire alarm monitoring in their area.

Opponents of the change have put forth two motions as part of an effort to maintain the status quo. The first motion, 72-8, would add the clause back that gives AHJs the authority to approve or reject monitoring service providers, while the second motion, 72-9, would eliminate the proposed paragraph altogether.

“We’re hoping that these motions will be rejected and that the industry will vote negative on 72-8 and 72-9,” said Kevin Lehan, executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association. “What that means is that an AHJ could no longer arbitrarily reject a UL-listed central station from being able to provide remote supervising station services. The way (opponents) would prefer it to read is with AHJ approval. With the caveat of AHJ jurisdiction, the local fire marshal, community, fire district or whatever entity it is can then take the position that UL-listed central stations are not allowed to provide remote monitoring service.”

Subsequently, Lehan said that this would enable fire officials to designate the local public safety answering point to be approved as a remote supervising station and, in effect, bar private industry and create a monitoring monopoly. This has been an ongoing issue in the Chicago area for years and has resulted in the filing of several federal lawsuits.  

Robert Morris, executive director of the Illinois Fire Inspectors Association, said that from their perspective, they didn’t see anything wrong with the way the code was previously written and didn’t think the change was needed in the first place.

“Certainly in the Chicagoland area, it had been working well for over 50 years and we have had no problems with it in any regards,” said Morris. “We also think that as the Authority Having Jurisdiction, we should have some say so as to what goes on in our own community. Where we choose to have a fire alarm signal transmitted to, we would like to think that should not be an outside agency dictating that but rather the people that have the responsibility of the building and the hazards and emergency response of the community.”

According to Ed Bonifas, immediate past president of the Central Station Alarm Association and executive vice president of Alarm Detection Systems, Inc., while it is completely appropriate for AHJs to give their approval for things in many parts of the code, in this particular section, the only two non-discretionary places you can send a remote station signal to are the fire department. In this case, they are both an AHJ and a service provide.

“In effect, what they are being asked to do is to validate the capabilities of their competitor to do business against them. They have a baked-in conflict of interest in this particular section of the code,” explained Bonifas. “No other place in the code is the AHJ, that I’m aware of, also a provider of service against the private industry.”

Morris rejects that notion and said that they aren’t against all fire alarms going to a central station.  

“No one is saying (the signal) can’t go there. We’re just suggesting that the fire department should be involved in that decision making process,” added Morris.

Lehan believes that fire officials in Illinois see the proposed code changes enabling private entities to compete against them as a threat to a “revenue stream” that they’ve either grown accustomed to or would like to tap into at some point.

“This is only proliferating in the Chicagoland area. It is a group of fire folks in Illinois who have pushed these motions,” explained Lehan. “The technical committee is comprised of folks nationwide, they thought it was code progress to change the language to allow central stations but there are a few fire officials in the Chicagoland area that see this as a threat to their monopolies.”

Morris counters, however, that money doesn’t have anything to do with their position.

“I don’t think there is a fire department that’s saying they want to do this to make money. I don’t think there is a revenue side of this,” said Morris. “The fact that they make money or don’t make money, and I don’t hear that being the issue, I don’t think has anything to do with it.”

If the motions pass, Lehan said that everything will remain the same as it is today for private alarm monitoring companies in Illinois. However, if they are rejected as Lehan hopes, then the industry’s position will be strengthened moving forward.

From Morris’ perspective, if the motions fail then fire services will be taken completely out of the decision making process. Morris does believe that monitoring provided by fire department communication centers is superior to that of privately-run central stations.

“I believe that’s the better way to go. I would just as soon have the alarm come directly to me than go to a third-party and then have that retransmitted to me,” said Morris. “There has to be a delay in doing that.”

While this has largely been a regional problem up until this point, Bonifas believes it has the potential to proliferate throughout the country.  

“When you put as much money as is involved with life safety system monitoring and you put (the AHJ) in control of it, this isn’t something that has to stay here in Illinois. It is something that could rear its’ ugly head anywhere,” said Bonifas. “But even if it is not, the concept that the judge, the AHJ, shouldn’t be ruling on their own cases, shouldn’t be choosing their own competitors, it is a nationwide issue. It is something that everyone should care about and the fact that they are only doing it here is almost irrelevant. The fact that they are doing it somewhere means it can happen anywhere.”  

The vote on the two motions will take place during a technical committee meeting scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Thursday, June 25 inside the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago.

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. 

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