An Española Fire Department officials told councilors at a May 1 Public Safety Committee meeting that they would like city council to implement an ordinance that fines property owners for false alarm calls.
Department Lt. Ron Padilla explained to councilors that false alarms make up a significant percentage of calls, and often they are repeated calls to the same businesses.
“Just looking at some of the false calls that we’re talking about, McDonald’s had 14 false calls in two months,” Padilla said. “We did go over there, we advised them of the situation.”
Padilla said the business explained they had installed a new oven, but that the position of the oven was near a heat sensor that was triggered whenever the oven door was opened, resulting in a fire alarm.
Regardless of the number of false alarms, Padilla said the Department has to respond to each call and each location as if it were an actual fire. Even when business owners call the Fire Department to tell them it is a false alarm.
“Once that alarm goes through dispatch, we’ve got to go,” Padilla said. “It’s not a false call until we get there and clear the building.”
In addition to McDonald’s, Padilla said there have been a lot of false alarms at the Santa Clara Apartments. The Department has also met with management there, advising them of the false calls and suggesting the manager contact the alarm company to resolve the false alarm problem.
Department records show a total of 134 false alarm calls during the first quarter of 2019. Of those calls, 30 were labeled as malicious or mischievous calls, 14 were the result of a system malfunction, 24 were unintentional or accidental alarms and 66 were categorized as other false alarms.
There are additional calls not included in the statistics where the Department was canceled en route to the alarm, but those are entered into the system differently.
“It absolutely puts a risk to our staff, not just the staff but to the public actually because we’re going lights and sirens, we’re going emergency traffic, and taking resources away,” Padilla told councilors.
With an already short-staffed Department, there are often only four or five firefighters working in the city at any one time, responding to false alarms removes precious resources from citizens, Padilla said.
The Department wants to enact an ordinance that would allow the city government to bill businesses that have repeated false alarm calls.
“We give them three a year, four a year, five a year, how many false calls we want to give them, and then after that we (should) start charging them,” Padilla said. “When we start charging them, then they start fixing things, if we don’t charge them or they’re not responsible for that false call then they just, it’s not that big of a deal for them.”
Mayor Pro Tem Peggy Martinez agreed with Padilla about the accountability aspect of the new ordinance. She said business owners are often lax in fixing things until it affects their profits.
“I think this is something that we definitely need to talk to legal about and do some research about what other cities are doing to prevent this,” Martinez said.
Councilors John Ricci and Manuel Martinez also support the measure and asked that the Department begin working to propose an ordinance and get it to City Attorney A.J. Salazar for review, sooner rather than later.
Ricci said the ordinance idea had been discussed multiple times, and he wanted to see progress on the idea in the near future.
Española Police Department Deputy Chief Roger Jimenez said there was a similar concern with home alarm systems for city police, and he would coordinate with Fire Department Deputy Chief Eric Tafoya to work on an ordinance that could help the entire Department of Public Safety.
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