What to do with false alarm fines?

Mike Harrigan, chairman of the Wading River Fire District commissioners, speaks at Tuesday's town board meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)
Mike Harrigan, chairman of the Wading River Fire District commissioners, speaks at Tuesday’s town board meeting. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

A proposal to eliminate the section of the Riverhead Town Code that divvies up false alarm fines 70-30 between the local fire districts and the town was opposed by one fire district and supported by another at a public hearing on Tuesday.

The Town Board proposed to eliminate the plan, enacted in 2011, in order to instead have all of the fine money go to the town, which it would use to hire a fire inspector.

Local fire districts have been calling on the town to add another fire marshal for several years, saying the two the town has is not enough. And in late April, the vice president of the Suffolk County Fire Chiefs Council said his organization may file oversight complaints with the state if the town doesn’t hire more fire marshals.

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The lower-priced fire inspector position can inspect commercial buildings, like a fire marshal, but cannot do fire investigations, officials say.

Since 2011, the Riverhead Fire District has been the only fire district in town — of which there are four — to even file the false alarm reports needed to request the 70 percent portion of the fines, according to deputy town attorney Dan McCormick.

Still, Michael Harrigan, the chairman of the Wading River fire commissioners, said his district is in favor of keeping the 70-30 plan. He said there was a “disconnect” regarding the filing of the fine request forms in explaining why they never did so. He added that the Wading River district also still supports the hiring of another fire marshal.

Dennis Hamill, a Riverhead Fire District commissioner, said his district supports the new plan “100 percent” and he questioned how other districts didn’t understand the previous plan.

Supervisor Sean Walter said the fire districts are welcome to speak at a Town Board work session to discuss any issues with the town.