Glad to see loose end tied up at college

In general, Paul Smith’s College is a wonderful asset to the local community, but even the best contributors sometimes deal out cause for concern. Now, we’re happy to say, a lingering concern from the school is coming to rights.

The Paul Smiths-Gabriels Volunteer Fire Department was driven to distraction for many years by having to frequently respond to fire alarms at the college that turned out to be nothing dangerous: shower steam or normal cooking smoke, for instance. It’s not surprising the alarm devices were sensitive; the college lost several buildings to fire in the 1990s and as recently as 2001. But when, for the 200th time, volunteer firefighters are woken up in the middle of the night or torn away from their day jobs because a student made toast, that’s a problem that needs to be fixed.

The college wasn’t fixing it on its own, so the frustrated firefighters started keeping a tally. They reported more than 60 false alarms on campus each year from 2005 to 2007, and more than 70 in 2008.

Therefore, in 2009, the Brighton Town Council passed an avoidable alarm law that set a $250 fine for each false alarm the fire department responds to, starting with the fourth, and increasing to $500 after the 25th. This made sense. Firefighters can’t ignore any fire call, no matter how unlikely it is to be a real emergency – the college is an important part of the town that needs to be served – but the department needs compensation for undue effort to deal with a chronic problem.

The college didn’t take this well. It sued. Thankfully, a move announced last week settles that suit.

The college will hire a trained safety officer and staff a 24-hour dispatch center to provide the first response to most fire alarms on campus. This will all be in place before students arrive for the new academic year Aug. 25.

“Now we can respond to an alarm first and determine if it merits involving the fire department,” college spokesman Kenneth Aaron said. “We’ve recognized that it’s a hardship for volunteers to get up in the middle of the night for burnt popcorn.”

This is good to hear. Fire safety has a cost, and after a few years, the college has wisely chosen to bear a bit more of that itself, in a way that complements and lightens the burden on the local fire volunteers. This will make life smoother for everyone.