LISBON - Should businesses with faulty fire alarm systems be billed for the cost of the fire department's response and resulting water loss if they fail to correct the problem?
The issue was raised at last week's Village Council meeting because of continuing problems with the Vista Center's fire alarm/sprinkler system, which has not only resulted in numerous visits from the fire department but, in some instances, a considerable loss of water.
The latest incident at the nursing home/rehabilitation center caught the attention of Board of Public Affairs members Carol Petrachkoff and William Hoover after the village lost 24,000 to 30,000 gallons of water due to the faulty alarm/sprinkler system.
"We're just having to eat it," Hoover told council.
The problem has been attributed to the sprinkler system's air compressor, which shuts down when it overheats, sending a false alarm message to the police department. When this occurs the water that feeds the sprinkler system bypasses the sprinkler and flows directly into the sewer system until the problem is caught and corrected.
This happened recently, and the sprinkler system water ran all weekend. During the period, 24,000 to 30,000 gallons bypassed the sprinkler system and was discharged directly into the sewer system.
The BPA learned of the problem after water plant employees noticed a significant discrepancy in readings at the water plant, which workers originally believed was due to an undetected waterline break. They traced it back to the Vista Center after learning the fire department had received another false alarm call from the facility.
Hoover and Petrachkoff said they would not bring this to council's attention except for the fact this is a recurring problem with the Vista Center and the village is losing a large amount of water each time, water that goes unbilled since Lisbon does not charge businesses for water used in fighting fires.
The BPA discussed installing a meter for the sprinkler system at the Vista Center but they are reluctant to spend the $3,000 to $5,000 it would cost.
They said the problem is not only costing the BPA but the fire department, which has to respond each time. According to the fire department's 2011 report, the department responded to 36 false alarms due to system malfunctions, 12 of which were to a 24-hour nursing care facility.
Fire Chief Dave Lewton, who was not at the meeting, estimated every false alarm they answer to costs between $500 and $1,000, depending on the number of firefighters who respond.
Village Solicitor Virginia Barborak was asked if Lisbon could charge for responding to false alarms, and she said they could, and the village could also force businesses to install meters for their sprinkler systems.
Council indicated the village would instead send a letter to the Vista Center asking them to correct the problem.
Matt Parkes, Vista Center administrator, said they are willing to meet with village officials to discuss the problem.
"Every recommendation we've gotten (from the fire department) we've pretty much followed through with," he said.
Lewton said the Vista Center is a problem, as is the Fleming House, when it comes to false alarms. He is not opposed to enacting a charge for responding to false alarms but suggested any such policy give the businesses so many free responses before the fee would apply.
Lewton noted they already do that with the Columbiana County Jail on false alarms resulting from inmates deliberately breaking the sprinkler heads. The fee is $1,120 - based on 10 firefighters responding in two trucks for two hours - but it is charged to the inmate.
The number of false alarms due to sprinkler vandalism has dropped considerably since they began billing inmates, he said.