By J.W. Schnarr
A new fire bylaw could include some steep fines for repeat offenders with regards to false alarms.
During their regular meeting on Jan. 5, Vauxhall council discussed the ongoing development of a new fire bylaw for the town with Vauxhall Regional Fire Department chief Brian Schafer.
“With the regional fire authority coming into effect now, the fire bylaw that the Town of Vauxhall has is now outdated,” he said.
Part of those discussions included possible new rules governing the handling of false alarms within the town, which Schafer said occur with enough regularity that they threatened to upset the cost-sharing agreement the town has with the Municipal District of Taber through the Regional Fire Authority.
“The false alarms really skewed your 75 per cent to 25 per cent funding agreement (with the RFA),” said Schafer.
Coun. Martin Kondor said he was in favour of a scaled approach to fines for false alarms instead of fining first-time offenders.
“It’s pretty harsh to be fined $500 right out of the barn,” said Kondor. “But I don’t think it’s outrageous if you go there twice within 365 days of your first offense.”
He noted the fines would have to be serious enough that building owners wouldn’t simply weigh the cost of upgrades against the cost of false alarm fines and go with whatever is the cheaper option.
“With a fire alarm, you’re going to weigh your options,” he said.
“If I have one every year, it’s cheaper for me to let it go. You can just pay the $500 rather than spend the money (to have your system repaired).”
Coun. Christie Sorensen said council should be grateful the false alarms were taken off the table in regards to funding, and said the town should take the opportunity as a chance to clean their house with respect to the issue.
“They were nice enough to take the false alarms out, but they may not always,” said Sorensen. She agreed with a comment by Kondor that the goodwill regarding false alarms could change in the future should council appear to be dragging their feet trying to get the issue resolved.
“We pretty much got our warning,” Kondor said.
It was suggested that administration could look and see how other municipalities are handling their false alarm issues, but Deputy Mayor Richard Phillips said it wasn’t necessary to do what everyone else was doing when a made-in-Vauxhall approach would do.
“We should be bright enough collectively to figure out something relatively simple such as this,” he said. “I’m not opposed to looking at other communities, but it’s a pretty simple matter to ask what works for (Vauxhall) and then do it.”
Phillips suggested the bylaw could allow for no charge for the first false alarm, a fine for a second false alarm within a certain number of months, and then a large fine for false alarms thereafter, up to a year.
“Is that reasonable?” he asked. “Does that sound like a Vauxhall solution?”
Chief Administrative Officer Cris Burns said one issue which could occur when a home was sold by a homeowner who already had been warned or fined for their false alarms, and whether the new owner would find themselves facing fines from repeat offences even though they’d only just moved in. Council agreed in a case such as that it would probably be better to reset the process for new owners in the interest of fairness.
“It wouldn’t be fair to new owners,” said Sorensen.
Any changes to the bylaw would not come in to effect until after it has passed three readings by council.