False alarms rise in Hudson

HUDSON – After two years of decreases, the Police Department is starting to see a rise in the number of false alarms.

The police and fire departments have suggested raising the fines for false alarms and other changes to the ordinance. The goal, officials say, is to cut the number of false alarms.

Voters will get to weigh in on those changes at Town Meeting in March. The Board of Selectmen recently approved sending a warrant article to the ballot to amend the rules.

Residents and businesses pay a $25 fine for their third and fourth false alarm in a calendar year and $50 for additional false alarms. The first two false alarms are free.

If the warrant article is approved, the fines would increase to $50 for the third and fourth false alarm and $100 for additional false alarms.

However, if a resident or business owner attends a free, false-alarm seminar, one of the fines would be waived.

The goal is to educate people about their alarms and how to properly maintain them to prevent false alarms, fire and police officials said.

“We don’t want to have any more false alarms than necessary,” Fire Marshal Charles Chalk said.

In 2000, the Police Department responded to 1,207 false alarms. That number dropped to 847 last year, but is starting to climb back up. Based on the number of false alarms so far, police project that there will be 921 false alarms in 2003, Capt. Ray Mello said.

“We will see an increase this year for the first time in many years,” he said.

Some business owners have said the fines are so low that they just consider them a cost of doing business, Mello said.

The main cause for false fire alarms is poorly maintained or dirty alarm systems, Chalk said.

“We can teach people ‘Here’s why you have these problems,’ ” Chalk said of the seminar.

Under the proposed warrant article, the alarm permit would also change from a one-time $25 fee to a 3-year permit that costs $15. A more regular permitting process would ensure the police and fire departments have updated information on alarms and help keep systems properly maintained, police and fire officials said.

Police also want to encourage business owners and residents to work with their alarm companies. If an alarm company notifies the police that the alarm is false, police officers will not respond and the alarm will not be counted as a false alarm.

Firefighters must respond to every alarm, even if the owner thinks it may be false, Chalk said.

What appears to be false can turn out otherwise, he said. The department also has to reset the alarm panel.Every business in town is required to have a fire alarm and has a locked box containing keys to the property. The Fire Department has a master key for boxes throughout town.

When selectmen discussed the issue Tuesday, Selectman Shawn Jasper expressed some concerns about raising the fines. Business owners pay taxes and some of the key services they receive are police and fire, Jasper said.

They don’t get trash pickup or schooling, he noted.

“I don’t think to increase fines . . . is reasonable,” Jasper said, noting: “I think people are already paying a tremendous amount in taxes.”

The police have waived fines if it appears the owner is making a good-faith effort to fix the problem, Mello said.

The Fire Department reviews all alarms before determining if they are false, Chalk said. In instances where burnt food set off an alarm, it’s not considered false.

There is also a process residents and business owners can use to appeal a false alarm fine, Mello said.