City considering changes to fire code for false alarms; licensing; maintenance of fire alarm systems

During their Dec. 7 meeting, City Commissioners will hold public hearings on two proposed changes to the city’s fire code.

The first is a proposed fine for false alarms.

GFFR has experienced an increase in false alarm calls to businesses in recent years that waste time and resources, according to GFFR.

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The current code authorizes fines or penalties for inadvertent false alarm calls related to unauthorized entries, such as burglar alarms, and doesn’t extend to false alarms for fire or other hazardous conditions, according to GFFR.

The proposed ordinance would extend the current code structure to authorize the transmittal of written warning letters and ultimately a fine for false alarms in the context of fire alarms or other hazardous conditions.

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The proposed changes would also impose a fine after the second false alarm in a year, as opposed to after the third, and increase the fine amount for a third or subsequent false alarm from $50 to $100.

The proposed change would also identify and incorporate the existing Montana statutory prohibition against the intentional activation of false alarms.

City staff proposing changes to several sections of city code

The proposed change also clarifies the existing need for alarm agents, or those who service and repair alarms, to get a special business license from the city planning department.

Currently, alarm agents are required to get an “alarm agent permit,” but the code is not clear as to where or from whom to get the permit.

A resolution establishing the proposed fee for the alarm agent license will be presented to the commission when this code change is presented on Dec. 7.

Staff are also proposing a change to city code regarding the reporting of inspections, testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems within the city.

The city adopted the 2012 International Fire Code that allowed city fire officials to request those records, but newer versions of the code that the state and city are transitioning toward don’t include that provision.

GFFR relies on the ability to request those reports “to ensure that the city knows which systems are working as designed and which are deficient,” according to the staff report. “With the submission of these reports, GFFR is able to work with the business owner and the service providers to ensure that any necessary repairs are made to the life safety systems.”

Currently, GFFR is only receiving reports from about half of the service providers working within the city.

A number of the service providers are not transmitting the reports and many may not be licensed to provide alarm services in the city, under the current code.

Without those reports, GFFR “is not in a position to assess whether the systems being serviced are fully operational or in need of repair,” according to GFFR.

The proposed code would allow GFFR to obtain those reports by requiring that all inspection, testing and maintenance of fire alarm systems be conducted by properly licensed agents and having the reports generated by those providers be submitted to the city’s third party reporting partner.

The third party reporting partner will work with GFFR, alarm agents and business owners to ensure the life safety systems that are found deficient get the needed repairs to operate as designed.

“This would increase overall compliance of alarm systems in Great Falls, and in turn enhance the safety and efficacy of these systems,” according to GFFR.