Hank Investigates: Fire Master Boxes - 7News Boston WHDH-TV

Hank Investigates: Fire Master Boxes

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When the alarm goes off--firefighters must move fast. Lights sirens and racing through red lights, every second counts.

But our investigation reveals for at least two years, dozens of businesses in Haverhill couldn't be sure the firefighters would arrive!

Their red "master boxes" that were supposed to alert fire department dispatchers of fire, smoke or sprinklers going off simply did not work.

So Inside the buildings, the fire alarms were ringing again and again but something was wrong in the wiring systems on the street a system the city is responsible for. Since no emergency signal was sent,  Haverhill fire trucks just sat there motionless behind closed doors. 

It happened just last month at a building Sandy manages.

Sandy York, Business Manager

"I'm concerned for the safety of my tenants and me!"

Employees arrived to find the alarm going full blast!  But no firefighters!.

HANK

"Why didn't the fire department show up?"

Sandy York, Business Manager

"As far as I know, the master box never rang into the fire dept."

It happened at this rehab center, at this school. At BJs. At this manufacturing plant, and this one. Sometimes it turned out to be a false alarm, but at this day care center, kids were evacuated as an actual fire started in a ceiling fan the alarms sounded inside--but the fire department never got the signal! Luckily a teacher CALLED 911.

 

Bud Hart, Office Park Manager

"It's very concerning. There's life and limb and property that's all in jeopardy."

 

The problem was somewhere in these electrical lines that are supposed to connect the alarm  boxes to the fire department dispatcher.

 

Sometimes they worked. Sometimes, they didn't.  Bud Hart manages at this office park where many of the incidents happened-- he says he complained to fire officials for months. 

 

HANK

"What did the fire chief tell you when you told him there was a problem?"

 

Bud Hart, Ward Hill Business Park Assn

"He told me the alarms work."

 

But look at these fire department reports we obtained over and over: "Box did not send to dispatch." "Did not receive any signal." "No signal was received." "Alarm room never got a signal." Bottom line: the alarm goes off, but no fire station hears it.

 

Bud Hart, Ward Hill Business Park Assn

"If it only works intermittently, it's worthless!"

 

Why wasn't the system fixed? The fire department is responsible for the alarms but the chief, Richard Borden, refused an on camera interview. On the phone he explained the problem was "shorts and shunts" in the wiring. He said "I really don't know" how often the master boxes failed and insisted the system is now "working properly."

 

"With any system," he said, "there are going to be problems. Is it perfect? No."

 

Then we asked: Could a problem happen again tomorrow? His answer: "Yes."

 

HANK

"When did the fire chief know about this?"

Mayor James Fiorentini, Haverhill  

"I haven't spoken with huh. I don't know exactly what or who knew when."

 

At City Hall the mayor finally admitted it's been a problem for two years but insisted he hadn't been aware of it.

 

 Hank

"These reports prove it happened over and over. Why wasn't this fixed?"

 Mayor James Fiorentini

"I'm not making excuses, because this should have been done. Absolutely. And evidently it didn't. It fell through the cracks."

What's more, we found each of these businesses were *paying* the city almost $200 a year to provide that fire protection!

HANK

"These people were paying for a service they didn't get. Are you going to refund their money?"

Mayor Jmes Fiorentini  

"Well take a look at that. If they really didn't get the service, they're entitled to a refund, absolutely"

 

 

Haverhill officials now admit a permanent fix of the wiring will cost about 25 thousand dollars, and they hope to begin that project next year. In the meantime, they're reminding businesses not to rely on the alarms but always to call 911 in an emergency.  

 

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