Derry Dispatch Equipment Failure Impacts Chester Alarm

CHESTER – The alarm system at the municipal building has been down for more than two weeks because of technical issues at Derry’s dispatching center, but according to Derry fire chief George Klauber, his town is working to fix and upgrade the system as quickly as possible.

There are 10 alarm boxes that radio to Derry dispatch from Chester, for both public and privately owned structures. According to Chester fire chief Rich Antoine, some of these systems have been unreliable in recent months and the problem was difficult to pinpoint. But last month the problem was discovered to be outdated equipment in Derry. The radio box at the municipal building was not being received by dispatch and according to Klauber, investigations found that dispatch’s console had a failed piece of equipment.
But, explained Klauber to the board of selectmen at its meeting Thursday, Sept. 26, that piece must be built. There aren’t any on hand at the dealer or manufacturer, and it could be another several weeks before the piece is in hand, he said.
Klauber conceded that their equipment was outdated and that Derry was working to upgrade the entire system, a $45,000 cost.
Klauber said the improvements were scheduled in the next two years in the town’s capital improvements program. The project was not budgeted for this year.
“We’re in an awkward situation,” said Klauber, apologizing to the board for the issue. Fire monitoring, Klauber said, was always something they considered a value-added service for Chester, something that was not paid for in the town’s contract to use Derry for dispatching. Klauber conceded that Chester could contract with a private company for dispatching, but said they had always had a good relationship.
The alarm is sent via radio signal, and all of the radio signals on town buildings are still being received by Derry except for the municipal building. The particulars of why the municipal building is out has to do with the way radio signals travel, said Klauber. In response to the lack of fire monitoring at the building, the selectmen authorized a fire watch.
With a fire watch, the town pays a fire department member to make sure that when no one is in the building, the structure is not ablaze. Selectman Rich LeBlanc asked Klauber about potential reimbursement from Derry for that.
Klauber questioned why the town was having a fire watch, pointing out that neither Hampstead nor Auburn, which also have similar issues because of the equipment failure, have not chosen to do so.
According to selectmen, their insurance carrier recommended it.
Klauber suggested that while he wouldn’t tell the board how to run the town, he suspected that with traffic and the police station next door, the building was relatively well monitored without an around-the-clock presence.
Antoine noted that the strobes and horns on the system were also out of commission, a separate problem that is being worked on as well.
The cost for the fire watch is about $200 a night, adding up to about $3,000 since the start of the equipment failure.
Though the board discussed ceasing the watch, it ultimately decided to keep things status quo for another two weeks unless the alarm was up and running before then. Antoine said the decision was entirely in the hands of the selectmen, and the person on duty did not have to be a department member.

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