We'd like to answer our Web poll question of the past week: Yes, if you own a building or facility where firefighters are called repeatedly for non-fires, we think you owe your local fire department some money for its pains.
The Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department has the right idea in asking the Brighton Town Board to pass a local law that would establish a fee system for false alarms. These volunteers are rightfully sick of being called away from their jobs and homes to Paul Smith's College, where the cause of the alarm is usually reported to be burnt popcorn or steam from a shower. It's good to see that the alarms work - all indications show they are actually being set off by smoke or steam, so it's not the same as crying "wolf" - but it's still an unnecessary expenditure of these firefighters' valuable time.
According to records kept by the PSGVFD, the college had 62 false alarms in 2005, 65 in 2006, 61 in 2007, and the number of false alarms this year is on the same track. Since this past April, records show that volunteers spent an estimated 1,232 man hours on false alarms at the college.
That's an unfair burden on the volunteers and on the town's taxpayers, who are paying for the equipment costs of these calls. No other property in Brighton expends the fire department's resources like the college does, and there are several other properties of comparable size and value to the college whose owners pay a lot of taxes and take little advantage of the fire-protection service: Bay Pond and Camp Topridge come to mind. Paul Smith's, meanwhile, is one of the few properties in the town that pays no taxes; like most colleges, it's exempt.
For the record, we love having the college here. It's also a good neighbor and has donated much in the past to the town and the fire department. But this is a case in which the fire department is correct to ask for its due.
This law, if passed, would charge the owner of any Brighton structure $100 for the fourth or fifth avoidable alarm in a year, $250 for the sixth or seventh, $500 for the eighth or ninth. Any subsequent avoidable alarms would cost $1,000 apiece. Under this equation, the college would have had to pay $52,700 for the 61 false alarms in 2007.
That's completely fair. Actually, we encourage every town board to pass a similar law.
A public hearing on the proposed law will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Brighton Town Hall on state Route 86 in Paul Smiths.