Firefighters and paramedics in Salt Lake County are striking back against a family they contend is responsible for more then 600 false alarms in unincorporated areas in 16 years.

County commissioners voted Wednesday to make such actions a Class B misdemeanor punishable by fines or imprisonment.Fire Chief Larry Hinman declined to identify the family. He said the department became aware of the large number of false alarms only after the county installed sophisticated 911 emergency equipment. The family has dialed 911 to report false emergencies 73 times in the past 18 months, he said.

"As a paramedic in the '70s I responded to this family many times," Hinman said. "Everyone knows these people, but we still have to respond to them."

He said county ordinances were written so broadly it was impossible to charge members of the family, who often call from different locations. Now, he hopes to put a stop to the false reports.

"We have a number of other people who repeatedly call as well," Hinman said. "A number of them belong in the mental-health system. This (ordinance) will be a way to get them in front of a judge who can order them to get the help they need."

Hinman estimated false alarms cost the county $20,000 in 1989. In addition to the costs, however, the calls took paramedics and firefighters away from others who called at the same time and legitimately needed help.