A federal court decided last week that a fire protection district in Illinois had no legal authority to establish its own non-competitive monitoring station and take over more than 300 accounts from private companies, including ADT and Alarm Detection Systems (ADS). The court’s decision has permanently banned the District from entering the fire monitoring business. However, according to a report in the Northwest Herald, the municipalities have taken this ruling as confirmation that they, as bound by different legislation than the fire district, do have the authority to dictate the “who” and “how” of fire alarm monitoring. IESA members worry that notion could spread to other states like poorly monitored wildfire.

In September 2009, The Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District’s board of trustees issued an ordinance mandating that all fire alarm signals in the district were to be transmitted directly to the District through a “direct-connect wireless fire alarm monitoring network,” eliminating the need for central stations.

The District informed fire alarm subscribers in the area that their fire alarm contracts with any private fire alarm company were immediately terminated — the District amended this notice a month later, saying current contracts would be allowed to expire before customers were obligated to switch. By June 2010, ADT had reportedly lost all of its commercial accounts in the Lisle-Woodridge District. ADS also reported losing “several” accounts. In July 2010, D.M.C. Security Services Inc., Illinois Alarm Services Inc. and SMG Security systems joined ADT and ADS in a lawsuit against the Lisle-Woodridge Fire district.

Last week’s decision marks the end of fire alarm monitoring for this fire district, but certainly not the end of the battle against government-imposed monitoring. One of the key determinants in the District’s right to implement its own monitoring program was the Illinois Fire Protection District Act and the specific tasks it appoints to fire districts — among which fire monitoring is conspicuously absent. Municipalities, on the other hand, are governed by the Illinois Municipal Code, and there is even precedent that would indicate their authority over monitoring.

Judge Shadur points out that in Alarm Detection Sys. v. Vill. Of Hinsdale, the court “held that a village had the authority to enact an ordinance requiring that all commercial buildings connect their fire alarm systems directly to the village’s fire board.” The reason the Hinsdale case was deemed irrelevant in the ADT v. Lisle-Woodridge decision was only cited as the fact that municipalities and fire districts are separate legal entities.

For more on this issue, stay tuned for an upcoming podcast with Kevin Lehan, executive director of the IESA, at SDMmag.com