Since 1996, the issue of how to deal with false fire alarms has cropped up every few years on Hilton Head Island.
That it continues to be an issue suggests that it's time to try something new to reduce the number. Fire Chief Lavarn Lucas is asking Town Council to pass a nuisance alarm ordinance.
According to Hilton Head Fire and Rescue Division figures, firefighters responded to 785 false alarms in 2012, 44 percent of total calls. That's far too big a percentage, and Lucas is right to raise concerns about the unnecessary stress on firefighters and wear and tear on equipment, not to mention the impact on the department's ability to respond to legitimate emergency calls.
Lucas is suggesting the town fine property owners after three or more false alarms in a six-month period. He didn't say how much the fine should be.
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Beaufort County has had an ordinance dealing with false alarms since 2000. The county waives charges on the first two false alarms within six months, with written proof that the home or business owner has taken steps to correct the problem. But it charges $50 on a third false alarm within six months. The fine increases $50 for each occurrence after that within a six-month period.
That seems reasonable and seems a good model for Hilton Head.
When the issue came up in 1996, town staff set out to draft an ordinance but later decided to try to educate the public and help property owners fix faulty alarm systems. One of the problems cited over the years has been alarm companies improperly testing or repairing home or commercial alarm systems without properly notifying the department.
Beaufort Fire Department Chief Sammy Negron says his department sends fire marshals to meet with those responsible for false alarms to explain code violations and how to fix problems.
That approach is fine, but frequent abusers should face some monetary penalty to get them moving to fix faulty systems. The Hilton Head department sent fire engines to one hotel 19 times last year; all but two were false alarms.
Something should be done. Let's try fines.