Companies sue Schaumburg over new fire-alarm policy
Six fire-alarm monitoring companies have sued the village of Schaumburg over a recent law directing all of the approximately 1,200 businesses in town to the governmental agency Northwest Central Dispatch and its own private contractor for their alarm monitoring.
The plaintiffs argue that the law approved last August creates a government-backed monopoly for one business, as well as raising the costs for all its customers.
But Schaumburg Fire Chief David Schumann said recent examples of unreliability among private monitoring systems exceed his comfort level. As Northwest Central Dispatch already must be contacted for any emergency in the village, he came to conclude that the fewer steps involved in a 9-1-1 call, the more streamlined and safe the process is, he added.
Over a 15-month period before last year's policy change, the Schaumburg Fire Department documented 31 instances of unreliability among private alarm and sprinkler systems, Schumann said.
Though all these involved false alarms, Schumann said they could just as easily have concerned real fires. Among the problems were systems that caused a 10- to 12-minute delay in contacting the fire department.
Elk Grove Village-based SMG Security Systems Inc. is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Its owner and president, John Reidy, said Schumann's arguments can sound logical to a layman but less so to those in the industry.
"It's the fireman's red-light camera," he said. "It's really all about the money, but no fire department will ever say that. It's just another tax."
Purely from a financial perspective, the monthly cost to his current customers in Schaumburg will increase from $25 to $80 as a result of the policy change, Reidy said.
Also named as defendants in the suit are Northwest Central Dispatch and its contractor, Tyco Integrated Security.
John Ferraro, executive director of Northwest Central Dispatch, said the other 10 municipalities his agency serves -- including the equally business-strong Elk Grove Village -- have had policies similar to Schaumburg's new one for decades. Yet he never heard any outcry or experienced any legal action until Schaumburg joined them.
Both Reidy and Schaumburg's Assistant Village Attorney Howard Jablecki agree the lawsuit breaks new ground by being a federal case against a municipality on this issue. But Jablecki said the village believes a home-rule municipality like itself has even greater authority to make such decisions than the fire protection districts that have been sued in the past.
For his part, Schumann said he's experienced a great deal of cooperation and support from the business community over the policy change. Though the deadline for compliance was set for August 2019, the fire department is willing to negotiate extensions for businesses that already have longer-term contracts with their alarm-monitoring providers, he said.
Kaili Harding, president of the Schaumburg Business Association, said she's heard arguments on both sides but her board of directors has not taken a position.
She added that those she's heard from include service providers who are members of the association. But as with any debate, Harding said she'd expect to hear less from those who are content with the new policy.
But Reidy argues that the interests at stake in the lawsuit go beyond those of the six companies that filed it.
"If we allow local governments to push us around with immunity, it undermines everything," Reidy said. "From the small businessman's perspective, they're hurting me and hurting everyone in the community."
Schaumburg Trustee Tom Dailly continues to stand alone on the village board in his belief that steep fines against the alarm companies could have handled the issues of unreliability Schumann found as effectively as the policy change that was enacted. Fellow Trustee Frank Kozak, who chairs the village's public safety committee, said that debate is over as far as he's concerned. Now there's just a lawsuit to defend, he added.
All three defendants have filed separate motions to dismiss the case that will be considered at a court hearing this Thursday, June 15, Jablecki said.