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False Fire Alarms Problematic for New Castle

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- New Castle fire chiefs are growing concerned over morale issues in their departments resulting from an increasing number of early morning false alarm calls.

"I’ve been doing this for 25-30 years, and I still can’t go back to bed after getting up, getting in the car, going on a fire call," said Chappaqua Fire Chief Russell Maitland. "We’re all volunteers and we all have a lot of things and we’re stretched thin, and this is putting a hurting on our membership."

According to the combined figures from the Chappaqua and Millwood fire departments, over 50 percent of the 565 calls the departments responded to in 2011 were false alarms.

Maitland and Millwood First Assistant Chief Greg Santone appeared in front of the New Castle Town Board on Tuesday night to discuss ways of resolving the false alarm issue. Maitland said the current fine system has not been much of a deterrent and there continue to be multiple repeat offenders.

To lower false alarm responses, Maitland recommended that household smoke detectors not be tied into to central alarm stations. He said in the event of an actual emergency, residents can make the 911 call personally.

“We recommend to have it in your house," Maitland said. "Smoke detectors are life safety devices that are there for one sole purpose, and that’s to alert you and get you out of the house. It was never designed to protect your house from burning down or anything of that matter.”

Maitland is worried that smoke detectors are becoming “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and when an actual emergency occurs, he does not have as many volunteers as he needs.

"I’ve been to the one in a million calls where you think it’s a BS false alarm at 2 o’clock in the morning, and you pull up and the flames are blowing out the window," Maitland said. "But nobody showed up to get on the fire truck because they all thought it was gonna be another BS call."

Since smoke detectors can be unreliable if used past their shelf life or not maintained properly, Maitland recommended only allowing more reliable heat sensors to be tied into central alarm systems. He said the failure rate in heat sensors are one in 4 million compared to a one in 63 failure rate for smoke detectors.

“I don’t think realistically that we can walk in here and say OK, a year from now everybody in the town of New Castle has to disconnect their smoke detectors and has to install heat detector," Maitland said. "But I think we should move in that direction.”

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