January 21, 2022

Council invites businesses to fire system discussion

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Cortland Fire Department Chief Charles Glover opens a fire box on the corner of Main and Court streets April 13. Formally called a fire alarm cable box, the device sends a signal down the street to the firehouse, where it alerts the crews stationed there.

The city Common Council is interested in changing or updating the way its municipal fire alarm system works, but these changes will likely cost businesses money, and city officials are eager to hear what business owners think about the idea.

During Tuesday night’s regular meeting, aldermen were prepared to pass a resolution calling for the removal of pull alarms from city streets by the end of the year.

The pull boxes and master boxes work by sending signals to the fire department when activated. However, the wire circuit connecting the boxes to the station is worn out, requiring repairs or replacement.

The master boxes protect businesses and other facilities like schools and the hospital.

Master boxes provide an instantaneous alarm to the fire station. The property owners paid for the installation of the master boxes, but the city over the years has paid to maintain them.

If the pull boxes are removed, the wiring would have to be reconnected to maintain the connection of the master boxes to the fire station.

Alderman John Bennett noted during this discussion that although the council has been discussing this issue since April, the city has received no feedback from residents or business owners.

“This has been discussed for a number of months and not a single entity has … contacted the city with any concerns whatsoever,” Bennett said.

This is an issue because connecting into an upgraded municipal system or hiring a third-party monitor can cost thousands of dollars. A third-party system also reportedly results in delayed response times, with as much as a 3 1/2-minute delay from the time 911 is called to the time the fire station gets the alarm, said Fire Chief Charles Glover.

Aldermen are also considering implementing a fee on the master boxes connected to the system. Proceeds would be put toward the cost of maintaining the system, a common practice in other municipalities.

Instead of voting to remove the pull boxes, the aldermen decided to send a letter to business owners outlining the situation and encouraging them to voice their opinions.

The council is expecting to revisit the issue during its Nov. 15 meeting to give time for business owners to ask questions.

As for the actual matter of repairing or replacing the alarm system, Glover has said in the past that pinpointing exactly where the faults lie in the wiring would be extremely difficult.

At the last meeting, Glover floated the cost of copper wiring around $3 per foot. On Tuesday, he said he learned the city could choose to replace the old line with at least three types of wire — and that there are at least 50 miles of wire in the city.

Glover implored aldermen to consider how upgrades affect firefighter response times and urged the city to choose the best option for residents, not the easiest.

“I’d just hate to see us throw away the opportunity to … look toward the future of the community rather than just trying to eliminate the system,” he said.

Mayor Brian Tobin said he plans to work with Glover to draft the letter that is expected to go out next week.