Signs that warn of fire alarm, or that inform of alarms that call the police are commonplace in public buildings. In fact, they are required in any public building. Consequently the removal of any such sign or alarm is illegal.

What are the laws that regulate the removal of fire alarms and signs?

The law relating to the removal of fire alarms is governed by NRS 202.580.

NRS 202.580 – Removal, damage or destruction of signal or apparatus for police or fire alarm; impairing effectiveness of or installing inoperable system for fire protection.

  1. Every person who willfully and maliciously removes, damages or destroys any rope, wire, bell, signal, instrument or apparatus for the communication of alarms of fire or police calls is guilty of an offense proportionate to the value of property removed, damaged, or destroyed, but in no event less than a misdemeanor.
  2. Every contractor who willfully or maliciously installs or causes to be installed in any structure a fire protection system knowing it to be inoperable, or who impairs the effectiveness of a fire protection system in any structure to an extent that a person in the structure would be endangered in the event of a fire, shall be punished by the permanent revocation of every license issued to the contractor by this state or an political subdivision authorizing the contractor to install fire protection systems, and for a gross misdemeanor.
  3. The conviction of a person for a violation of the provisions of subsection 2 does not preclude the prosecution of that person for deceptive trade practices, fraud or similar crimes.
  4. As used in this section:
    1. “Automatic fire extinguishing system” means a system approved by the State Fire Marshal that is installed in a structure and designed to extinguish a specific type of fire. This type of system includes dry chemical, carbon dioxide, halogenated agent, steam, high-expansion foam, foam extinguishing and liquid agent systems.
    2. “Automatic fire sprinkler system” means a system of underground or overhead pipes, or both, to which sprinklers are attached that is installed in a structure and designed to discharge water automatically when activated by heat from a fire and to sound an alarm when the system is in operation.
    3. “Contractor” means any person, including a subcontractor, employee or agent of the contractor, who, for another person and for compensation or with the intention or expectation of receiving compensation, undertakes to install or cause to be installed, by himself or herself or by or through others, in any structure, a fire protection system.
    4. “Fire alarm system” means a system composed of a control unit and a combination of electrical devices that is designed to sound an alarm in the event of a fire and that may be activated manually by, automatically or in both ways.
    5. “Fire protection system” includes a fire sprinkler system, an automatic fire extinguishing system, a fire alarm system and standpipe system.
    6. “Standpipe system” means a system of pipes, valves, connectors and related equipment that is attached to a water supply and designed so that water can be discharged through a hose attached to a connector for the purpose of extinguishing a fire.
    7. “Structure” includes a building, bridge, tunnel and power plant.

It seems common sense that it is illegal to destroy a fire alarm, but what else does this statute apply to?

NRS 202.580 applies to more than just the destruction of fire alarms. It also applies to any sort of signal or system for communicating with law enforcement or fire department. It also applies to any sort of fire retardant system inside a building or structure, such as a sprinkler system or other automatic fire extinguishing system.

In other words, any action that impairs the ability of a communication system between with law enforcement or the fire department is a violation of NRS 202.580.

However, it does not only apply to such communication systems that are already in place. Any contractor who intentionally installs a false or inoperative communication system or fire extinguishing system is also violating NRS 202.580.

What are the possible penalties?

If the system is already in place, and someone alters or impairs it, the violation is charged as a misdemeanor, carrying with it:

  • Up to 6 months in jail; and/or
  • Possible fines up to $1,000.

If a contractor intentionally installs a false or impaired communication system of fire extinguishing system, then the violation is charged as gross misdemeanor, carrying with it:

  • Up to 1 year in jail; and/or
  • Possible fines up to $2,000.

PLEASE NOTE: If a contractor is charged with, and convicted for, violating NRS 202.580, that conviction does not preclude prosecution, or civil liability, for deceptive trade practices, fraud, or other similar crimes that may apply.

Are there any Defenses?

Yes, of course there are. Some of the possible defenses include:

  • No intent – The first element that must be met in a conviction for impairing a police or fire alarm or other system is that the defendant must have impaired the system intentionally. For example, if someone were to accidentally overload the circuit board in a building, and thereby short-circuit the fire alarm, then they should not be charged with violating NRS 202.580 (although, generally, such systems are never run on the same circuit as other functions within a building for exactly this purpose). Similarly, in order for a contractor to be charged with installing a false or non-functioning system, the contract must have done so intentionally. Therefore, if you or your attorney can show that your conduct was unintentional, then the charges against you should be dropped or dismissed.
  • No damage – The second element that must be met in conviction for impairing a police or fire alarm or other system is that the defendant must be the person who impaired the system. If the defendant were to ‘cut the wire,’ so to speak, on a fire alarm that was improperly installed in the first place, and therefore did not work, then the defendant did not, in fact, impair the system. There may be other charges that may apply under those circumstances, but any charges for violating NRS 202.580 should be dropped or dismissed.
  • Lack of Evidence – As with any crime, the prosecution bears the burden of proving every element of the crime “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If there is not enough evidence to uphold this high level of proof, then the charges should be dropped or dismissed.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with impairing a police or fire alarm or system?

As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.

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