The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, June 22, 2001


What your police and fire chiefs want you to know

Often, it seems we live a charmed life here in Carlisle. The problems of the outside world fade as soon as we enter this tree-shaded, peaceful oasis. Crime, other than the occasional rash of mailbox vandalism, is rare. House fires, even in this area that could be devastated by an out-of-control forest fire, are also blessedly infrequent. Much of this is due to the diligence of our police and fire departments, led by Chief David Galvin and Chief Robert Koning. Both men have held their positions for about 25 years, providing them with valuable insight into the things that are going right and occasionally wrong in Carlisle. Recently, the two men, along with Deputy Fire Chief David Flannery, were asked what they'd like new Carlisle residents to know (and longtime residents to be reminded of) regarding safety issues in the town.
Police Chief David Galvin

A charmed life? Crime in Carlisle

There aren't many towns in which one can feel conforted even entertained by reading the police log in the weekly paper. But amid reports of rescuing ducklings from a storm drain and apprehending the owner of a dreaded potato gun, more serious crimes can and do occur in Carlisle. Chief Galvin reports that there are cases of domestic violence, vandalism, mischievous teenagers and occasional drinking. During his 27 years as chief in Carlisle, he has seen four homicides. "It is wonderful here; very safe, but we're not in a bubble. We have to remember we're surrounded by larger communities and can experience the same issues as these large municipalities," says Galvin. "The police department still has to do its job. We have to be diligent, professional, and handle emergencies."

Much of the news about crime is good. Although there was a rash of car burglaries at the State Park, the thieves were arrested. Home burglaries, thanks to widespread use of house alarm systems, are way down. Still, Carlisle residents need to be aware of more sophisticated career criminals, particularly those who steal credit card numbers or illegally obtain information over the Internet. Recently, Galvin reports, a Carlisle resident had his identity stolen by someone in a neighboring community. Fortunately, that person has been apprehended.

About alarm systems

Both the fire and police chiefs agree that home alarm systems connected to them via "alarm central" are extremely helpful in emergencies and advise that all Carlisle residents use them. Thanks to alarms, burglars have been caught red-handed, fires have been extinguished before getting out of control, and lives and possessions have been spared. But as with any mechanism, alarms can malfunction, or can be set incorrectly by owners. New residents should check to make sure both burglar and fire alarms are hooked up; all residents should have their systems serviced and tested annually.

False alarms in Carlisle are frequentat least 600 a year for the police department and nearly as many for the fire department. Although both chiefs state that they'd rather cope with a false alarm than risk missing a true emergency, these can get expensive for the town.

Fire Chief Robert Koning
"About five or six people go out for every call, and they have to get paid whether it's a false alarm or not," says Koning.

Other than your typical burned toast or forgotten pot on the stove, the things that can trigger a fire alarm may surprise residents. A contractor working in a house or sanding a floor can generate dust that will confuse the alarm; even steam from a hot shower can set it off. As for the fairly recent carbon monoxide detectors (which have already protected some residents in Carlisle from harm, says Koning), people should never leave their cars idling in the garage, because the fumes will eventually make their way into the house and trigger the alarm.

"After the third false alarm within a six-month period, we will send [residents] a friendly letter asking them to look into what caused them," says Deputy Fire Chief Flannery. After that, fines may have to be enforced.

Koning also stresses that alarm systems that can be heard outside should be able to be turned off and reset in case they go off while you're out of town.

"Think about your neighbors," he says.

Call 911

Eventually, new residents find themselves at the police department in search of a sticker for the transfer station, which creates a handy opportunity for the department to track new residents for the 911 system. Once your name, address and phone number have been entered into the system, the police and fire departments will be able to pinpoint where you are, whether the call is interrupted or not.

"Even if people call by mistake which I've even done, meaning to call information at 411 we're coming. We always go, to double check," says Koning.

"We don't come in with guns blazing, but to have one-on-one contact," agrees Galvin. "We need to see if it's a domestic problem, or if someone wasn't allowed to complete the call. We just want to make sure."

Another helpful tool used by fire and police dispatchers is the "9-1-1 Disability Indicator Form." This form, filled out by residents and kept on file, lists the special needs and/or disabilities of residents. (Examples: life support systems, blind or deaf residents, those who are bedridden or have other mobility impairments, or those who are developmentally disabled.) This information could be crucial in properly caring for residents during an emergency call. (These forms are available by request at the police department.) Galvin points out that all emergency information needs to be updated from time to time call if you're not sure they have your current information.

Senior citizens and others who take medications should always keep a list of their medicines posted on the refrigerator door, says Koning. "We need to know what is being taken and when they need to take it. Occasionally a person is unconscious or can't convey the information we need."

Both Koning and Galvin stress that people should never hesitate to call 911 if they have a concern. "Some people are reluctant, afraid they'll be embarrassed if it turns out to be nothing. But this is a community effort. We work for you," says Galvin. "Notify us of suspicious people or phone calls, give us as many details as you can."

Cell phones can be a powerful tool in crime prevention. A 911 call on a cell phone will be routed by a main dispatch center straight to the Carlisle response team.

Deputy Fire Chief David Flannery
Help them help you

"A lot of people don't realize that when we respond to a home, especially one on a private drive, the growth of trees or branches can make it tough for fire trucks to get through," notes Flannery. "In the winter, it gets particularly bad."

It's also imperative that house numbers be posted out front and easily seen so emergency crews can find you, Flannery adds. "In the spring, a branch might grow across your sign. Check it periodically that's a big help."

Animal control

In Carlisle, animals are everywhere--not only a plethora of wildlife, but many beloved pets. Koning confirms that the fire department is called out periodically to rescue cats from trees ("although I've never seen a dead cat in a tree," he says); and Galvin is in charge of enforcing an unusual town by-law that allows for a neighbor's dog to bark for 15 minutes straight, but no more. Currently, there are no leash laws for either dogs or cats, but the chiefs report that complaints from residents are rare.

More often are the calls regarding wild animals. In the past, residents have reported a moose walking down East Street, a mother bear and her cub raiding bird feeders, deer stuck in the wetlands, injured coyotes in the road, raccoons in chimneys, birds in living rooms, and yes, ducklings in a storm drain. (Granted, moose and bear sightings are rare in Carlisle.) Because Carlisle has no animal control officer, the police and fire departments field all calls, occasionally having to refer residents to outside agencies specializing in animal removal.

Fire safety

In general, "residents get an 'A-plus' on open-burning adherence," says Flannery. This past season, out of about a thousand open burning permits, "only a handful got out of control." Overall, Flannery says, residents are diligent about controlling their fires away from building structures, observing designated months and times for burning, and keeping hoses, rakes and shovels nearby.

Troubles occur only when people get careless. Residents should never leave a fire burning unattended. And when the burning is finished, all fires need to be doused thoroughly with water. "If you're burning a big pile of wood, unless you wet it down, it can smolder for two days," says Koning.

To help protect homes from the danger of forest fires, Flannery suggests making sure there's a "green belt" around your house, free of brush and dead leaves. "You need about 40 to 50 feet minimum of landscaped area or lawn to serve as a buffer if a forest fire occurs," he says.

As for general fire safety, Koning and Flannery advise families to conduct fire drills, always identifying two escape routes from the home, and arranging a meeting place for everyone to gather outside. Residents should also be careful when disposing of combustible items (such as rags used for painting) and hot ashes from grills or fireplaces. (If you have any questions, feel free to call the fire department.)

Are those hydrants?

No, they aren't. Carlisle has no fire hydrants, because Carlisle has no municipal water. Those "red things" are actually drafting pipes, which lead to underground cisterns. Currently, new underground tanks (such as those constructed near new subdivisions like Buttricks Woods) are required to hold 20,000 gallons of water, while older cisterns hold only 10,000 or 5,000 gallons. In addition, the fire department's tanker truck holds 3500 gallons, says Flannery.

"People from areas that have municipal water are not familiar with the idea of cisterns," he adds. "We can also use ponds, the river -- whatever water source is available."

Safety on the roads

Narrow streets and increased commuter traffic is of great concern to both the police and fire chief in Carlisle, especially when it comes to pedestrian and bicycle safety.

"I'm a pathway advocate. I cringe whenever I see a mother walking down the street with a baby carriage," says Galvin. "We need to get people off the street. It's a safety issue."

And what about all the bicyclists on the streets of Carlisleespecially on weekends? Although Koning allows that Carlisle is a beautiful place for serious (and recreational) bikers to ride, he notes that the presence of hundreds of bicyclists has resulted in a large number of biking accidents. Often, the problem lies in too many bikers traveling too fast and colliding.

"Usually it's due to recklessness," he says. "Or, bikers are at the side of the road, they hit the sand and take a header." Without shoulders at the side of the road or pathways for pedestrians, "We've had cases of bikers clipping walkers," Koning adds. "The issue is: Where is the person going to go; where is the bike going to go? Fortunately, no one has been critically injured."

As for the future of pathways in Carlisle, Galvin says he is "cautiously optimistic." When the first phase is completed near the center of town, "People will see them, utilize them, and see that they're good for the town. Of course the biggest hurdle is funding."

No solicitors

Strangers are at the door. Perhaps they're selling magazines or candy, handing out religious tracts, or urging you to sign a petition regarding the environment. Some people don't mind greeting these strangers. But if you'd rather not have them on your doorstep, there's something very simple you can do: ask the police department to add your address to a "non solicitation" list.

When people or organizations come to town for door-to-door solicitation, they are required to register in the community, says Galvin. As they register, they are given the list of homes where they are not welcome. They are obliged to respect this list, and your wishes.

Community support

In general, the news from the police and fire chiefs in Carlisle is good. One could even say that we live a "charmed life" here, particularly in comparison with many other towns. But part of the credit, Galvin and Koning maintain, is due to the residents of Carlisle, who have always been supportive of both departments both financially and otherwise.

"Carlisle is small enough that you know people, and you get that extra effort from officers," agrees Galvin. "In that way, it's 'Walton-esque.' "

"This is a great place and the residents are great. We love serving the people," agrees Koning. "When a firefighter comes to your house, he respects your privacy, your home. He lives here too; he could be your neighbor."

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