Guest Column: It’s time to hire a fire marshal

Firefighters battling the blaze in Southold March 15. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
Firefighters battling the blaze in Southold March 15. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

This year alone, three homes have been destroyed by fire, a dozen people displaced and devastated. Now, this week, one of our town’s historic steepled gems, First Universalist Church of Southold, has been lost forever and yet another unfortunate fire victim — in this case, members of an entire congregation — are left with only charred timbers and ashes. 

This past fall, Southold Town fire departments helped the Jamesport Fire department battle a raging residential fire at the Maidstone Landing complex.

Last June, a man died in an out-of-control fire at the Liberty Data building in the heart of Mattituck.

In the past three months, fire displaced the residents of three homes in Southold and Greenport. Thankfully, all survived, but tragically, some pets met their fate.

Just a few years ago, two elderly women lost their lives in a house fire on Goose Creek Lane in Southold because their smoke detector’s batteries were missing.

As a community, we can and must do better. Southold Town needs a full-time fire marshal of its own, someone with the authority to review existing structures, residential and commercial, and enforce the fire prevention component of New York State Building Code.

Did you know that for over a year now, carbon monoxide detectors have been required in all new and existing residential and commercial structures? A fire marshal would enforce that law.

One argument against hiring a fire marshal, which would be a paid civil service position, is that it would increase the town budget at a time when all taxing entities endeavor to meet the state’s 2 percent tax cap. I would argue that a good fire marshal saves money, as well as lives. Early detection with proper fire and/or sprinkler systems reduces fatalities and property damage. Our already strained volunteer fire personnel would be able to handle emergencies more efficiently and with better control.

It might be said that, as a life safety professional, I have a vested interest in having a local fire marshal. Not so. We work in other townships where fire marshals hold us accountable for precise installation of our fire alarm systems, review building plans with us before a single smoke detector is installed and mandate fire systems testing every year. A fire marshal creates a level playing field for businesses in our field, but more importantly, can actually save the lives of both residents and firefighters.

Southold Town has also been experiencing issues with illegal house and apartment rentals for many years. A fire marshal would enforce fire and life safety codes in such situations.

Twice a year, when we change our clocks to and from Daylight Saving Time, there are public service announcements galore about changing the batteries in our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. That’s good, but it’s not enough.

At this time, it would be wrong and shortsighted to suggest that the loss of the First Universalist Church building in Southold could have been prevented if the town had a fire marshal on staff. This isn’t about finger-pointing. It’s about realizing that fire is an ever-present danger that can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time.

If we have the means to increase the odds in our favor, we must act rather than react. There’s too much at stake to accept the status quo.

Paul Romanelli is president of Suffolk Security Systems, a security and fire alarm company in Southold.