Fire monitoring battle ongoing in Illinois

A judge says public fire districts can’t be in the fire monitoring business, but local municipalities contend they still can require businesses to be monitored only by them
Thursday, July 28, 2011

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill.—A battle in this state over public entities taking control over fire alarm monitoring is still raging, despite a recent federal court ruling saying a public fire district had no legal right to invalidate contracts that ADT Security and other companies had with their customers and put itself solely in charge of commercial fire alarm monitoring.

In the July 20 decision, a judge in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois said that a state law establishing public fire protection districts in the state does not grant the districts any authority to be in the fire alarm monitoring business.

Kevin Lehan, the executive director of the Illinois Electronic Security Association (IESA), called the ruling “a positive step.” However, he said,  it doesn’t end the controversy because municipalities in the state—which are distinct from fire protection districts—still contend they have the legal right to require businesses be monitored by them instead of private companies.

“The municipalities have indicated that they’re going to operate like they’re not bound by what the federal judge said,” he told Security Systems News.

That’s because, according to the Northwest Herald newspaper, municipalities are interpreting part of the judge’s ruling to say that they still have the authority under the Illinois Municipal Code to have control over fire alarm monitoring.

Then, Lehan contends, municipalities will have fire protection districts operate the service through intergovernmental agreements. He called that a way to “just sidestep whatever this judge says.”

Lehan said IESA continues to fight against public entities having a monopoly over fire alarm monitoring, which it says will damage the industry. Supporters of public control of fire alarm monitoring say it’s necessary for safety reasons, but IESA and its members deny that, and contend municipalities and fire districts simply want the monitoring revenue.

“I am certain if this becomes standard practice in Illinois, it will spread across the country rapidly,” Lehan told SSN. “Everyone is looking for revenue and unfortunately the way the government is at this point, they believe they can just take it from private industry.”

The IESA this spring led a successful effort to persuade state legislators to kill a bill that would have given public fire districts sole control over fire alarm monitoring. The association rallied industry members and other business groups, such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, to oppose the law.

The industry believed the bill was a reaction to the temporary injunction that Judge Milton Shadur issued late last year in favor of security giant ADT and four other security companies. They had all sued the Lisle-Woodridge Fire District in federal court because that Illinois fire district had passed an ordinance putting itself solely in control of commercial fire alarm monitoring in the district. It had declared monitoring contracts ADT and the other companies had with customers to be null and void and required those business owners to contract exclusively with the fire district for fire monitoring through its wireless radio network, paying monitoring fees to the district.

The judge in that ruling—which is under appeal by the fire district—ordered reinstatement of the company contracts, saying the district had no “express authority” in the law to engage in the fire alarm monitoring business.

The judge’s decision this month reaffirmed his earlier one and makes the injunction permanent. Shadur also granted a partial summary judgment to ADT and the other companies, saying they have demonstrated they are likely to win the case on its merits. The judge noted that damages to ADT and the other companies were likely to be very high because of the loss of their customers and business.

ADT told SSN its lawyers were not available for comment on the case.

Lehan said that steps IESA is taking to be proactive on the issue include holding a recent meeting with business owners in McHenry, Ill., to inform them their costs for monitoring and equipment will increase under a mandate to connect to a municipal monitoring center.

And he said the association recently learned the communities of Elgin and Lombard are researching the possibility of establishing municipal control of monitoring, and has met with public officials in those communities to discuss the ramifications of such a decision.

Lehan said IESA also is warning communities that association members have discussed taking them to court if they require municipal monitoring.

“We’ve put a lot of these communities on notice,” he said. “My statement to them is that we hope they quickly recognize the mistake of establishing a government alarm monitoring monopoly so that the private alarm industry is not damaged any further. We hope those communities will rectify the situation by amending their ordinances to allow free-market competition and avoid fruitless taxpayer-funded litigation.”

SSN continues to report on this story.



Does the fire district also provide the fire alarm/runner service on the accounts that they monitor?

Is the wireless fire alarm monitoning system that the municipality uses is a standalone communicator system?

If the system is a standalone communicator, does it meet the NFPA 72 200 seconds execption? When the standalone communicator fails, within 200 seconds does the monitoring station receive a adverse condtion and notify the premise of that condition.

What if a customer said that they want to be monitored by XYZ company instead of the municipal system. Will they not respond to the dispatch?

Who is behind making this change and why would a municipality want to get into the fire alarm bussiness. Not because of the revenue from monitoring!

Yes! The fire districts provide runners.. they are firemen in big red trucks with water and hoses! Each wireless system being used by over 60 municipalities in Chicagoland is a separate and distinct network with a dual central receiver at the fire dispatch and hundreds of subscriber transceivers sending signals their respective central receiver. The entire network is 100% fully compliant with NFPA72 as well as UL864-9th edition. ( Major misinformation is in the public space! ONLY those buildings which are required by NFPA and or local codes and ordinances to have a fire alarm are required to connect to the municipal system. This is NOT a take over; monopoly or government storm troopers forcing something on the innocent populace! Did you know that fire alarms have been monitored by municipalities in the greater Chicago metro area since the 1960's?! Municipal monitoring of high risk fire systems has been going on for OVER FIFTY YEARS! Why is the alarm industry hysterical about it now? Also, did you know that every single municipal monitoring system has been sold, installed, serviced, inspected and maintained by alarm companies?? The warriors in this "battle" being waged are one alarm company and a suburban based security trade association.

Finally, Mr. Cossu, you are absolutely correct that municipalities are NOT monitoring alarms for the revenue. Compared to the cost for providing first responders; their equipment; their facilities; their training; their dispatchers and training; and the hundreds of other costs to run a municipal fire department, the revenue from alarm monitoring is but a drop in a very large bucket. Municipalities monitor alarms because it is faster to have the same person receive the alarm and also dispatch the alarm. And while one can argue til the proverbial cows come home that central stations are just as fast in their response, the unbiased facts just do not support the argument.

For the other side of the debate, visit

so do you work for a municipality?

i work in the private sector!

firemen take care of fire alarm condition signals, runner service takes care of fire supervisory and trouble condition signals! you would not want to send a big red truck on a low battery signal would you. or does dispatch call a private company to handle the supervisory and trouble condtion signals? how does that work?

perform a simple test. power down the subscriber transceiver and see if dispatch receives an adverse condition on that receiver account within the 200 second condition per NFPA. Simple, if dispatch did not receive an adverse condition, which the AES subscriber transceiver does not have that option, the entire network in not 100% compliant, and not per NFPA, maybe municipality don't have to be per NFPA code. Because you have 60 municipality on the system in Chicagoland don't make right.

the municipality should focus on the dispatching to the correct address and responde to the fire alarm signal, maybe the city can save money instead of trying to do everything. Like the rest of the states that leaves it to the private sector.

not to split hairs, when a municipality takes business away from the private sector you have to wounder whats next.

the point is the private sector compared to the goverment or municipality sector, is the facts just do not support the argument that the municipality does a better job.

why would the municipality want to be in the fire alarm business anyway, leave it to the private sector. One law suit takes away and good you are trying to save. It's ok, the tax payer or your customers will pay for it.

does the municipality charge more for monitoring and runner service than the private sector.

oh, nice website, not bias at all.

go blackhawks

Mr. Binninger,

Please tell me exactly, how does a municipal radio network REDUCE false alarms over any other alarm transport method?



If anyone is interested in reading the meeting notes regarding the Wireless Alarm Monitoring System in the City of McHenry please feel free to read: