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New bylaw cuts false alarms

Once a fire alarm is triggered, firefighters must respond. There is no turning them back even if the alarm is determined to be false.

But Nanaimo's firefighters are responding to fewer false alarms thanks to a new city bylaw.

The bylaw, passed by council in May, allows the city to charge fees for inspections and other services and even levy fines to make businesses comply with fire safety regulations.

Doug Bell, captain with Nanaimo Fire Rescue's fire prevention and loss division, said it will take time to educate business owners on all the nuances in the 31-page document, but one aspect implemented immediately was the department's authority to charge a fee every time a truck and crew responds to a false alarm.

"It's not a fine, it's a fee – and it's a fee for service," Bell said.

The bylaw gives business owners two free false alarms in a year. Any more than that and they get billed $300 for each additional false alarm.

Bell said most businesses are responsible about complying with fire safety regulations and the small percentage that caused most of the problems are starting to toe the line.

"We're no longer going to false alarms in those buildings because they are spending the money to fix the problems rather than just have us continuously respond with a truck and a whole bunch of men to false alarms that can be prevented – and that is working," Bell said.

Business owners who ignore problems can also be fined.

"We have a couple of buildings in town – well, one in particular – that is ignoring everything, they just continually have false alarms and I think just about every week they've got a $300 bill from us," Bell said. "We'll be going to them and saying, 'No, you can't just continue this. Now we'll start enforcement.' They're obviously not getting the hint that they need to fix their problems."

No building – including Nanaimo Regional General Hospital, the school district or even the city – is exempt from the fees or fines, but allowances are made for alarms triggered by malfunctions beyond the property owner's control, such as water leakage into an alarm system during severe weather.

Businesses are given two free inspections per year to ensure safety issues are resolved, but if they aren't, subsequent inspections cost $100 per visit.

Bell said Nanaimo Fire Rescue will work with property owners to find ways to prevent repeated false alarms.

"There are always ways of fixing it," he said.

The bylaw also requires business owners to conduct fire drills, make sure fire and life safety equipment is in order, and that flammables storage meet the fire code. Fines for failing to do so start at $2OO.

The Fire Protection and Life Safety Regulation Bylaw No. 7108 can be viewed by visiting the city website at www.nanaimo.ca.

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