SALISBURY — The Fire Department is continuing to make upgrades to its personnel, fire station and equipment, but the fire chief is also asking commercial property owners to step into the 21st century as well.

Fire Chief Scott Carrigan came to Salisbury in summer 2017 and has overseen the transition of five part-time firefighters to full time, as well as the addition of a new squad truck and ladder truck, among other upgrades.

Now, Carrigan is looking to local businesses to help keep the department moving forward by transitioning away from the town's fire alarm system.

Most of the commercial properties in town use his department’s old alarm system, which still makes use of telephone wires that transmit a signal to dispatchers at the Beach Road police headquarters, according to Carrigan. 

“These are the old-style red boxes," Carrigan said. “They cover all of the areas around town and businesses that have a fire alarm system and connect to those wires."

But the fire alarm system has been experiencing problems, he said.

“The system has gone down numerous times over the last year,” Carrigan said. "When the fire alarm goes off, that signal is not going to be received at the dispatch center. That alarm could be going off for quite some time and in some cases, that may be a lifesaving problem.”

Salisbury’s fire alarm system is also becoming more expensive to maintain, according to Carrigan.

"We used to have a bucket truck that would allow us to get up into the wires and do the repairs," Carrigan said. "That vehicle has encountered numerous, critical safety faults of its own and it was gotten rid of. We also only have one person who is trained and experienced with the fire alarm system."

Carrigan said the town has been providing the alarm service to local businesses for $100 a year, but private alarm companies are offering fairly affordable services to property owners.

"This is going to cost us a significant amount of money to be able to maintain this over the long term," Carrigan said. "There are other alternatives available to property owners to have their alarm system properly monitored for relatively modest costs."

Carrigan pointed to Amesbury, where the Fire Department moved away from its analog fire alarm system about 15 years ago.

"We went from a master box system to a radio box system and now we have a central station monitoring system through separate companies," Amesbury Deputy Fire Chief Jim Nolan said. "The old system was reliable technology, but it was getting very old and difficult to repair. It also only told you which box was activated. Our new system utilizes cellular dialers and offers quicker and more precise monitoring."

Nolan said his department's current alarm system informs he and fellow firefighters exactly where a fire alarm activation signal is coming from, even before they hit the road.

“This lets us us know exactly what is going on and where we have to go," Nolan said. "It is much better than walking into some place and finding a panel and then going to where it was. Take a building like Stop & Shop, which is huge. We used to have to go to the fire alarm panel, which was in the back to tell us which smoke detector had been activated."

The new cellular system lets his department know exactly where and when an alarm has been set off within 20 seconds, Nolan said.

"I'm amazed how fast it is, this is a real time-saver," Nolan said. "It is a better system that is more responsive. Central station monitoring costs about 40 or $50 a month for a business and plenty of security companies offer package deals or discounts, too."

A number of businesses have already moved their fire alarm systems off the Salisbury system according to Carrigan.

"This is not something we have the infrastructure to maintain over the long term," Carrigan said. "We have around 80 or 90 (commercial) facilities and it will take some time to get all of that done. So we're just trying to start this now."

Carrigan said the current fire alarm system brings in an average of $12,000 a year in fees to the town. But the chief added that the cost of moving away from an old and outdated system far outweighs the loss of an annual revenue stream.

“I know that, any time someone suggests we take away something that is going to bring it revenue, that will draw some ire,” Carrigan said. “But my view is that this could end up costing the town a lot more then $12,000 if we get a system that gets jammed or has a critical fault in it and we decide we need to purchase the necessary equipment to maintain it properly and train our personnel on it. That will be far more than $12,000."

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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