Nonstop fire alarm
March 9, 2020 8:14 PM   Subscribe

There has been a fire alarm going off in the lobby of my condo building every day for years. Please help me find someone to make this stop.

The alarm panel is in our lobby but contains alarms for all of the commercial units in this building as well. I don't know why their alarms ring in our lobby instead of their space. Something in the commercial space triggers the alarm every day for most of the day. I'm not sure what the alarm communicates with but the the fire department never shows up.

The owner of the commercial space is aware but since it doesn't cause him any inconvenience he doesn't want to fix it. Is there any way to motivate him to fix this? Is there any city or state agency that would handle things like this? Does it violate any local ordinance?
posted by great_radio to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Call your local fire inspector.
posted by jgreco at 8:23 PM on March 9, 2020 [18 favorites]

I suppose that was an unnecessarily terse answer, sorry.

The local fire inspector (sometimes fire marshal) is the "Authority Having Jurisdiction" (AHJ) over this sort of thing. It is the fire inspector's job to approve of fire alarm systems, to periodically inspect a wide range of things involving fire safety concerns, and can issue citations for violations of fire code.

If your AHJ doesn't care about this stuff, no one else is likely to. If your AHJ does care, that comes with the ability to force remediation. There is really no one else.

Your other possible option would be to call the fire department while the alarm is going off and let them know. This might or might not result in a useful escalation.
posted by jgreco at 8:35 PM on March 9, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Go to your municipality’s website. Search for code enforcement division. Contact them, and they will be able to provide you with the correct contact information for the inspector that inspects that building/commercial area.

Sometimes fire inspectors are attached to the fire department, and sometimes they are code enforcement officials who have multiple trades.

ETA: I am a code enforcement official in the state of North Carolina. I work in fire services, but am not currently inspecting.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 8:36 PM on March 9, 2020 [10 favorites]

Call 311 during business hours, they can also route you to the correct dept. Also try calling/emailing your aldermanic office.
posted by ProtoStar at 9:17 PM on March 9, 2020

In addition to above: I hear the phrase to use is "fire alarm is malfunctioning."
posted by meemzi at 9:20 PM on March 9, 2020 [8 favorites]

The other route to try if you get no joy from the fire service is noise enforcement - see if whatever local government you have, has a team dealing with that. They may have some powers to inspect and enforce a fix.
posted by penguin pie at 3:16 AM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

How on earth can the local fire dept. tell if this is a false alarm or a real emergency? It needs to stop, pronto.
Seconding what has been said above about the appropriate fire response officials.
posted by TrishaU at 4:21 AM on March 10, 2020

Some years ago when the apartment building next door had fire alarm go off repeatedly I called 911 about 5 times over a weekend. The fire chief got involved and made them fix it by day two (and presumably fined them). I spoke with the firemen and they said that I was correct in calling them each time.
posted by zeikka at 4:32 AM on March 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

> I'm not sure what the alarm communicates with but the the fire department never shows up.

Most of these kinds of alarms do not communicate with anything.

If you call the fire department every time you hear it, I guarantee it'll get fixed within the week.
posted by dmd at 5:22 AM on March 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

Side note it may not be the alarm per se; it may be the alarm telling you that it's not working properly.

In my condo, because it is required by fire code, we have a fire alarm that is wired and will call emergency services if there is a fire. *The phone line that kept it connected to the service was compromised by water* and it would intermittently not be connected. It has an internal alarm for this problem, and it would go off *especially when it was raining* because the alarm could not verify that it was able to dial out or whatever.

it took about 100 years to diagnose this problem because it was intermittent. It wasn't until I pointed out to the alarm company that the thing was active almost exclusively during rain that they figured it out.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:15 AM on March 10, 2020

Surely you are not the only resident who finds this unacceptable. Get others to call the Fire Dept. Most cities have a non-emergency number. Put up signs with tear-offs with the number.
posted by theora55 at 7:09 AM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I know everyone in this post means well, but oftentimes the people on the apparatus can’t actually *do* anything, unless this is a very tiny municipality. That’s why I suggested calling the code enforcement division - they can do the inspection/reinspection, have contacts with the alarm and fire suppression equipment companies, and can involve other trades (electrical, mechanical) if needed. They can also write citations and levy fines.

In fact, in this area the operations firefighters can’t even reset the alarms; that has to be done by a keyholder or by the alarm company. I’m trying to point this person in the right direction so that the problem is resolved faster and repairs are completed so that it is no longer a nuisance.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 8:21 AM on March 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

It seems to me since this is a common area of your building, your condo association might be the right authority to lean on the commercial unit owner to have it fixed. Your condo assn could think about paying an alarm company to examine the system and tell you any options for fixing it or making it stop. Often an alarm system will have some kind of signage identifying the company that installed it - you might try calling/hiring them. If the commercial unit is in your association, the association may have the power to to tell the commercial owner to fix it or pay the association to have it fixed -- i.e., assess special dues to the commercial unit. If push comes to shove, a condo association has a lot of power to make people fix things that are impacting other units.
posted by Mid at 10:47 AM on March 10, 2020

Personally, I'd be the asshole and call the firemen / cops / whatever each time the alarm goes off, saying 'there's an alarm going off, please come and check it out'.
Every single time.
Hopefully, somebody will get fined about it and eventually, somebody will have to get off their ass and do something about it.
posted by signal at 1:14 PM on March 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

A fire alarm that's frequently false-alarming and everyone has learned to ignore it is not an alarm. It needs to get fixed.

Unfortunately, a fire department who has learned to ignore the daily call about the alarm is not desirable either. I get the sentiment, and I'd probably do it for a few days to see if they'd Get Right On That for me (by calling code enforcement for me), but probably the right answer is sara is disenchanted's suggestion to call them yourself without crying wolf to the firefighters when you know there's no fire.

Curious what they're doing in there that sets off the alarm though. Inadequately-ventilated work or excessive dust production could be its own fire hazard the inspectors might be interested in, and actually be dangerous to other building occupants.
posted by ctmf at 7:57 PM on March 11, 2020

triggers the alarm every day for most of the day.

For MOST OF THE DAY? Oh hell no. That's most of the day you have no effective fire detection. The system is essentially disabled, already in alarm mode, and a real fire would cause no additional alert. That's got to be a violation of something.
posted by ctmf at 8:01 PM on March 11, 2020

Response by poster: So I found this page and submitted a request. It says it will take 14 days for them to complete the request, and who even knows if that will happen given everything else that is going on. But still better than doing nothing. Thanks everybody.
posted by great_radio at 5:52 PM on March 12, 2020

« Older Anybody have any tips on dealing with coronavirus...   |   I want to separate my MBP display from the case. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.