False-alarm tickets OK'd

October 20, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

The Baltimore County Council gave the Fire Department authority last night to issue tickets carrying fines of up to $400 for excessive false alarms and uncorrected fire code violations.

The change -- passed by a unanimous vote -- is expected to reduce the time county fire inspectors take to get code violations corrected in commercial buildings, and cut down on false alarms by encouraging better maintenance of automatic fire alarms.

Deputy Fire Chief John F. O'Neill said the county is merely taking advantage of a new state law that went into effect Oct. 1. That law gives local governments the power to impose fines for more than three false alarms per month, or eight per year, and for uncorrected fire code violations. County police already had the same ticketing power for faulty burglar alarms.

Baltimore County fire prevention inspectors often must work six to eight months to get some building owners to correct potentially dangerous code violations. The corrections are often made just before the case's scheduled date in District Court, said Deputy Chief O'Neill.

The threat of civil fines will be an incentive for much quicker corrective action, he said, noting that people can be fined up to $400, although most fines will be lower. Examples of possible fines include $30 for a missing fire extinguisher and $100 for blocked fire escape doors or improperly stored flammable liquids. A false-alarm ticket will cost $30. No tickets for fire code violations will be issued until the building owner has been given a violation notice, and time to correct the problem, said Deputy Chief O'Neill.

Last year, county firefighters responded to 96 false alarms in eight days at a Towson nursing home, said Deputy Chief O'Neill. The Fire Department handles about 600 false alarms a year and reinspects 3,600 code violations.

Before the council met last night, the newly formed Baltimore County League of Environmental Voters announced that it had organized with hopes of becoming a permanent presence in county politics. The group wants to make the public more aware of local environmental issues, said organizer Polly Walker Wirth. Group members also want to track the performance of elected officials.

Staying aloof from politics "just doesn't work" for environmental activists, Ms. Wirth said. Despite the risk of backing a losing candidate, people concerned about environmental issues have to get involved in election campaigns, she said. Those risks are clear in Baltimore County where, in the 1990 election, several environmental groups backed incumbent Dennis F. Rasmussen for county executive. Mr. Rasmussen lost.

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