By Alex Ginsberg
Public officials in southeast Queens are sounding the alarm. Or they would be, if they could find an alarm box.
The Fire Department deactivated about 4,000 of the streetside alarm boxes in 1995 as part of a pilot program designed to cut down on false alarms. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani then announced a plan to eliminate all boxes citywide, but eventually compromised with the City Council and agreed to keep or restore two-thirds of them.
But the replacement effort has stalled, leaving southeast Queens without 93 additional alarm boxes it was promised, according to state Assemblyman William Scarborough (D-St. Albans).
Scarborough joined Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and Jonathan Raines, Community Board 13's second vice chairman, for an April 11 meeting with Fire Department officials to discuss the likelihood of replacing the alarm boxes.
“It would be difficult in this budgetary climate,” said Robert Sweeney, the department's Queens commander.
So Sanders and Scarborough are trying to compile information showing that the absence of the boxes has done harm to the area.
“We intend to pursue it,” Scarborough said. “Certainly in terms of number of fires and amount of damage, preliminary information indicates there have been increases.”
In the meantime, residents of southeast Queens are furious.
“You have to remember that there are many seniors in this community,” said Beth DeBetham, chairwoman of the Local Development Corporation of Laurelton, Rosedale and Springfield Gardens. “We do have people that are hard of hearing and people that are not able to use the telephone.”
But fire is not the only danger posed by the absence of the alarm boxes. Residents are likely to take an insurance hit as well.
“People who purchased their homes years ago were required to get fire insurance, and the companies took into consideration how close you were to a fire alarm box,” Raines said. “Now the properties have appreciated but the safety factor has gone down, so insurance rates will go up.”
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.