False alarm may spur new law

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lewisburg firefighters responded to two fire alarms before dawn Monday and while one was more smoke than fire which was extinguished quickly by a factory employee, the other alarm was false, renewing concerns among emergency responders.

Malfunctioning alarms and even one erroneously rung for a fire drill have been a concern for months at Fire Chief Larry Williams' office. He's been consulting with City Manager Eddie Fuller about whether an ordinance is needed so a fine might be charged as a penalty for false alarms.

"We know these alarm systems are mechanical and are man-made and they will malfunction at some time, but false alarms not only endanger lives, they cost the city, the county and the taxpayers money," Williams said.

At about 5:15 a.m. Monday three engines from the main station on Water Street responded to an alarm at a factory on Garrett Parkway.

"At the same time we had an alarm going off at West Hills" Elementary School which proved to be a false alarm, the fire chief said. "Our West Side Station responded to that.

"They are installing a new alarm box at West Hills School," the chief explained. "The alarm went off and three men from our West Hills station responded. When they arrived ... they found custodians working there on the school."

The custodians were buffing floors when the alarm went off, Williams said. The firefighters "did a walk through and reset the alarm and it went off again," the chief said of he new alarm.

"So they did another check of the building to make sure everything was OK and once the building checked out OK, they did reset the alarm again," Williams said.

Lt. Phil May then contacted Capt. William Lynch who was on the scene of the real alarm at Garrett Parkway. May told Lynch the school alarm was false and had been cleared so Lynch recommended that May and his crew go back to their station since the other alarm had been resolved.

"Every alarm is treated like a fire until it's ruled out as not a fire," the fire chief said.

The Garrett Parkway alarm was at Trison Coatings Inc. where owner Mike Robertson said the plant had what he called a "smoldering bag house."

Trison maintenance technician Donny Henshaw used a fire extinguisher and so the fire department responded but didn't apply any foam or water. Robertson said

"I don't believe there were any flames," Robertson said about a "grit blaster" device that makes the surface of metal stampings rough to promote adhesion when coatings are applied to automotive parts.

Williams says police, ambulance gas and electric officials also respond to fires, so alarms become costly and false alarms are wasteful.

City officials have refrained from rushing to write a proposed ordinance, knowing school system officials intended to install new equipment, Williams said.

Meanwhile, in a report published here on Dec. 10, Stan Curtis, director of the school system advised the school board budget committee that replacement of the fire alarm system at Marshall Elementary School for $12,000 is essential because the Fire Department has been going to MES so often on false alarms that they have said they will start charging.