2006-04-27 / Front Page

Fire marshal concerned about group home safety

By Donna K. Drago

The state's recent removal of the fire alarm system from a group home on Stanchion Avenue has town fire marshal Arthur Christman upset and looking for answers regarding who should be in charge of fire safety.

"As far as I know, I'm in charge," Christman said about whose authority should determine all fire code issues in Jamestown.

Christman said that because he is the fire marshal in this jurisdiction, he should have final say over how the group home, which houses mentally disabled adults, should be coded for alarms. And, because Christman has coded the group home under the heading "medically, physically handicapped with five or more persons," according to his code book, a "master alarm box," is required there, as far as he is concerned.

Christman said the alarm box, which tied in directly to the fire station whenever the smoke or heat detectors were activated, was installed about 13 years ago and has been inspected quarterly by the Jamestown Fire Department ever since. There was no cost to the state to have the box wired to the station, the fire marshal added.

"It's criminal," to remove a perfectly good fire alarm from a building, Christman said, adding "we're talking about potential life hazards here."

"The state is in violation of the codes," Christman said.

Apparently the state disagrees.

Lisa Rafferty, director of Bridges, Inc. the island-based organization that runs the two group homes in Jamestown, said that Bridges leases the homes from the state and it is the state that is responsible for any structural issues, including alarm systems, she said.

The state made the decision to disconnect the master alarm box, Rafferty said.

For all the years Bridges has operated group homes in Jamestown, and in other towns, it has only been Jamestown that has required the alarm system to be directly linked to the fire station, Rafferty said.

Rafferty said that "fire safety is a really big thing for us," and described the many systems in place to keep her clients safe.

Rafferty said that the group home on Stanchion Avenue still has a pull box just outside the front door of the residence. They also have hard-wired commercial heat and smoke detectors indoors that alert the residents of a hazard by emitting a loud sound. There

is emergency lighting and the required number of fire extinguishers, Rafferty said.

While neither of the two group homes currently has a sprinkler system, both will need one to meet more stringent codes revised after the Station nightclub fire three years ago, Rafferty said.

Rafferty said that fire drills are held monthly at the home and each of the three shifts has to undergo a regular fire drill to keep all employees up to speed on evacuation procedures.

Because all of the residents at Stanchion Avenue are mobile, they are all able to get themselves out of the house when they hear an alarm, Rafferty said, noting that whenever someone "burns toast," they all file outside until the situation is back to normal.

Rafferty said that the group homes in Jamestown were both built as group homes so they had to meet certain fire codes at the time of construction, and that they are inspected by the state fire marshal's office every two years to maintain their operating license.

"I have to go along with the state fire marshal regs, because they supercede the local," Rafferty said.

Rafferty said with the alarm system wired to the fire department there were many false alarms as a result of minor cooking mishaps that really didn't warrant the full response of the fire department. She said her staff

knew to call the fire station so "they didn't rush out," to the home, even though the fire department was required to respond to every alarm call.

"We've always been happy with their response," Rafferty said about the fire department, noting that "they always come in a timely fashion and do a wonderful job."

But now, she added "if there's ever a real fire we can pull the box and call 911."

The Press attempted to reach both the chief inspector of the state Fire Marshal's Office as well as the director of the state Division of Developmental Disabilities, but neither was available for comment.

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