Newry selectmen ponder "faulty alarm" ordinance
The Newry Fire Department is pondering an ordinance that would allow the town to fine homeowners who put off fixing their faulty fire alarm systems, as well as alarm companies that repeatedly test systems without first notifying the NFD.
When a fire alarm goes off and sends a signal to the Oxford County dispatch office, the NFD must respond. But, said Chief Bruce Pierce, firefighters sometimes arrive to find a neglected alarm system activated for no apparent reason. Or they may find an alarm company technician working on a system without telling the NFD.
Bethel and Woodstock already have ordinances that address problem alarms. Pierce and selectmen met Monday to consider establishing an ordinance to deal with "repeat offenders."
In Newry, of 27 false alarms received last year, Pierce said, six to eight were the result of company tests or, occasionally, a malfunctioning alarm.
Jim Largess, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, suggested the ordinance distinguish between false alarms (in which the smoke detector is correctly reacting to smoke, even if it's harmless cooking smoke) and "faulty" alarm systems that aren't working correctly.
By using the title "Faulty Alarm Ordinance," Largess said, "You define what you're trying to do by saying, 'Look, this is for people who aren't taking care of their alarms. They keep going off, and we keep having to go out for nothing. The alarm is just bad. But if it's hot because someone is cooking and the place is all smoked up and the alarm goes off, you're going to go and look at it."
Pierce agreed that responding to alarms "doing what they're supposed to do" even in cooking situations is the Fire Department's responsibility.
Selectman Gary Wight, a former Newry fire chief, said alarm companies that repeatedly fail to notify the NFD when they are working on alarm systems and set them off should also be subject to a fine. "If they do it two or three times, I think they should pay," he said.
Largess agreed. An alarm company might say "sorry" for inadvertently calling out the NFD, he said, but if the town imposed "a $100 or a $1,000 fine, now you're really sorry."
Pierce said another common repeat-offender problem occurs when someone in a rental property barbecues outside an open window, and the smoke drifts inside, setting off the alarm. If subsequent renters do the same thing, firefighters may find themselves at the same unit repeatedly.
Pierce said if the town adopts an alarm ordinance it could also serve an educational purpose. By communicating the ordinance and the problems that prompted it through condominium and homeowner associations, he said, many of the scenarios might be avoided.
He planned to work on ordinance wording for discussion at the next selectmen's meeting, on May 17.