Firefighters Battle Heavy Chapel Hill Blaze

Firefighters responded to a blaze at a two-story Chapel Hill residence at around 2:36 a.m. on Friday.

The flames were reportedly visible from the back of the residence at 321 McCauley Street, just to the west of UNC’s campus.

According to a press release from the Town of Chapel Hill, a total of 18 personnel from various fire and police squads in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, New Hope and South Orange were called to put out the heavy flames.

No injuries were reported, but two cars in the garage were destroyed, and three others were damaged.

Two residents of the burned structure were reportedly displaced.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation as of Friday afternoon.

http://chapelboro.com/news/fire/firefighters-battle-heavy-blaze-2-story-chapel-hill-residence/

How to Be Safe with Fireworks

This July 4th, Chapel Hill is offering a variety of ways to celebrate, notably the fireworks display at Kenan Stadium. The Chapel Hill Fire Department is reminding citizens that the best way to practice good firework safety this summer is leave it to the professionals.

Fire Marshall for the Chapel Hill Fire Department, Todd Iaeger, says that the best way to be safe with fireworks this Independence Day is simply not to use them.

“The obvious answer is not to use them at all,” says Iaeger. “If you are going to use consumer fireworks, people have to be cognizant of the fact that these things emit significant temperatures, and anything around those things can easily ignite. People have to remember too that the statute of North Carolina states that if it leaves the ground, if it moves, if it makes a big bang, it’s illegal.”

Iaeger also says that the use of sparklers is something that might be safest to avoid altogether, especially for child safety.

“To me, it’s a bit counterintuitive,” says Iaeger. “We give small children sparklers and tell them to wave them around. What people don’t understand is that patterned material on those sparklers has the ability to reach to 1,200 plus degrees. So, we’re putting 1,200 plus degrees of a little wire in the hand of a child. If you are going to use those, you’ve got to make sure there is an extreme amount of adult supervision. I believe, and I think statistics prove, that sparklers alone are very dangerous, particularly for smaller children.”

With the celebration events that Chapel Hill has to offer this July 4th, Iaeger says that there is essentially no reason to risk your own fireworks show, when you have one of the best in the country right at your backdoor.

“I want to stress significantly, please, forgo the consumer fireworks, forgo the homemade fireworks. Go to the professional display at Kenan Stadium. It’s ranked as one of the top ten best displays in the country. Take advantage of that. Please leave it in the hands of the professionals.”

For more tips on fire safety, click here.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/safe-fireworks/

Brazil and BBQ

I did not publish a column for the last two weeks because my family and I were in Brazil attending a few World Cup Soccer games. For this week’s column, I want to share a few non-science thoughts about our Brazil experience, and also tell you about a safety incident that occurred at my house just before we left town.

Much of news coverage here in the U.S. about the World Cup has focused on protests by Brazilian citizens regarding the expenditure of vast sums of money on a sports tournament in a country with so many other needs, as well as safety risks for tourists during the tournament. I’d like to provide you some first-hand insights of experiences in these areas.

There was a protest march in Fortaleza while we were there. What we observed was exactly what one would expect here at home. The protesters marched, held signs, and chanted slogans. Their rights to free speech and free assembly were respected and their interactions with the police were orderly and respectful. Except for it being in Portuguese rather than English, it could have been a Moral Monday march, except the Brazilian police didn’t arrest any of the protesters.

As for safety, the generous citizens of Brazil as well as the police officers were looking out for everyone and helped to create a secure and welcoming environment. For example, we had to catch a bus from a soccer stadium back to our hotel and were a bit confused. Two Brazilian women took notice of us and asked where we were trying to go. A couple of minutes later we saw one of them running through the crowds, risking missing her own bus, to find us and make sure we got on the right bus. I could list many other similar examples. It was a great trip and we felt secure and welcome the entire time.

With the travelogue completed, let me tell you about the first time I had to call the fire department since moving to Chapel Hill 14 years ago. It was the evening of the Belmont Stakes, and in-laws were over for a BBQ. I lit the propane grill on our back deck to let it warm up and went back inside to watch the horse race. When I checked on the grill about 15 minutes later, I noticed that something was wrong – really wrong.

The black insulation on the side of the grill cover had developed large blister-like bubbles. I checked the temperature gauge and it read 700ºF! I grabbed one of the valves on the front of the grill to try to start turning off the propane, and found that it had melted and no longer functioned. At this point, I decided it was time to call for professional help.

I quickly went inside, grabbed my phone and told everyone, calmly but firmly, that they needed to get up and head out the front door. Once we were out of the house and away from the overheating grill, I called 911. The dispatcher was calm and clear and stayed on the line with me until I could see the fire trucks coming. The firemen were there in under five minutes, donned their gear and stopped the fire by shutting the valve on the top of the propane tank, which was located in the cabinet below the grill. I had considered attempting this myself before calling 911 but (correctly, I think) decided that getting everyone out of the house and letting the firemen assess the situation was the right way to go.

I want to thank both the 911 dispatcher and the fire department for taking care of us when we needed them. If ever you wonder why we pay taxes, this is why.

So what went wrong with the grill? I can’t be 100% sure, but let me lay out the most likely scenario. The pressure inside of a propane tank is between 100 and 200 pounds per square inch (psi). When you connect the tank below the grill there is a small circular device in the hose. This is the regulator. Inside the regulator are a plastic diaphragm and a spring. The spring is adjusted such that the outlet pressure from the regulator is approximately 0.4 psi, significantly lower than the pressure inside the tank. Once the pressure is lowered to 0.4 psi by the regulator, the propane gas flows to two or three valves which are controlled by the dials on the front of the grill and then directed to the burners. Along the burners there are many little holes and out of each comes a small flame. The temperature inside of the grill is a function of the temperature of the small flames, the flow rate of propane from the tank to the burners, and the heat loss from the grill to outside air.

Depending on the purity of the propane – it contains some other hydrocarbons such as ethane and butane – and the fuel-to-air ratio, the temperature of each of the little flames can be as high as 1900°F. Even though the flames are very, very hot, since they are small, the heat given off by one of them is limited. When everything is functioning properly, the heat given off from the flames in conjunction with the heat loss from the grill results in a temperature within the grill of approximately 300 to 450°F.

The most likely scenario which resulted in my grill overheating was that after 14 years of reliable service, the regulator in the feed line failed, probably due to a broken plastic diaphragm. Therefore, the pressure of propane being supplied to the burners was much higher than the intended 0.4 psi. As a result, the flow of gas to the burners was much higher, resulting in the dramatic increase in temperature.

At the point I called 911, there were two key risks on my mind: a house fire and an explosion. My grill is on a wooden deck and near to some vinyl siding, so there was a realistic risk that the overheated grill could have started a fire on the deck itself. More than 1,000 home fires a year in the U.S. are started by similar circumstances. There are also occasional reports of propane grill explosions. Although I was concerned about this possibility at the time, my circumstances were not likely to lead to an explosion. The propane tank, supply line, and regulator housing are all made of steel which can easily withstand a temperature of 700 ºF, so there was no reason to expect a leak to develop. Without a leak in the supply line, it is hard to construct a scenario which could lead to an explosion.

The root cause for this safety incident is clear: I operated my grill for 14 years, well past its intended service life. The manufacturer supplied a gas regulator which functioned perfectly for a long time, so I cannot ascribe any blame to them. I have since learned that you should not operate a propane grill for more than 10 years, so I recommend you think about how old yours is and join me at the grill store if it is too old. As I am in the market for a new grill now, please email me at commonscience@chapelboro.com if you have a recommendation. It’s good to be back.

Have a comment or question? Use the interface below or send me an email to commonscience@chapelboro.com. Think that this column includes important points that others should consider? Send out a link on Facebook or Twitter.

http://chapelboro.com/columns/common-science/brazil-bbq/

It’s Time To Register Alarm Systems In Chapel Hill

Police and fire officials are reminding the community that it’s time to register all alarm systems, both residential and commercial, in Chapel Hill, per a new town ordinance.

It’s free to register, but if you don’t by July 1, you’ll have to pay a penalty. Too many false alarms will equal fees as well.

“Legitimate alarms, of course, we want to go to. It is the accidental alarms that take up a lot of our time and tie up equipment and people unnecessarily,” said Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue.

The goal of the program is to track the number of accidental alarms, which have caused public safety officers problems in the past.

Blue said that research revealed Chapel Hill police officers and firefighters were responding to about 5,000 alarm calls each year. About 95 percent of those calls were accidental alarms, which were proving to be costly for local law enforcement and more importantly, tying up public safety resources.

“Educational campaigns and problem-solving efforts to reduce those activations has not been effective,” Blue said. ”We’ve reach out to people. We have tried to help them mitigate their problems, but we still see numbers in the thousands [of false alarms] every year.”

That’s why Blue worked with Fire Department Chief Dan Jones to establish the ordinance, which was passed by the Town Council in October of last year.

The Town will begin tracking the number of accidental alarms on July 1.  Fire and Police alarms will be tracked and counted separately.

People who don’t register their alarm systems by the July 1 deadline will face a $100 penalty.

If a registered alarm user has four or more accidental alarms during a 365 day period, it will result in a series of graduated fines, ranging from $100 to $500 for each violation.

Fee schedule for accidental alarms:

1 – 3: No fine
4 & 5: $100 each
6 & 7: $200 each
8 & 9: $300 each
10 + : $500 each

“The goal here is not to send bills out or to generate revenue. The goal is to reduce emergency response unnecessarily,” Blue said.

Matt Lawrence, CHFD Deputy Fire Chief, said that this ordinance does apply to UNC.

“We’ve work very closely with both the University and the hospital to work through their interests and what their concerns were and moving toward solutions to make our response to their locations better,” Lawrence said.

Blue said that the fees from the program will help to offset the cost of the third-party vendor, Cry Wolf, which will handle the registration process and track the number of false alarms through its software. Municipalities such as Durham and Burlington already have similar programs.

“The good news is other than the staff time to do the research on the ordinance, there really haven’t been any significant costs,” he said.

For more information on how to register your alarm system, click here.

Notable: In 2012, the Police Department responded to 3,630 alarm calls at a cost of $75,213, per the Town’s research. In 2012, the Chapel Hill Fire Department responded to 1,250 alarm activations at a cost of $122,400. Police Department routine alarm responses include at least two officers while Fire Department response include three to four fire apparatus with up to 10 firefighters.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/time-register-alarm-systems-chapel-hill/

Health, Safety, Schools, Libraries, And Hillsborough

If you still haven’t signed up for health insurance, the Chapel Hill Public Library is holding an all-day Affordable Care Act enrollment session on Monday, March 24, from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The library is holding the session in partnership with UNC Healthcare, the League of Women Voters, Planned Parenthood, and UNC’s Student Health Action Coalition.

The deadline to sign up for health insurance in 2014 is March 31.

For more information or to reserve a time, call the Chapel Hill Public Library at 919-968-2780.

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Are you a veteran or connected to the military? Orange County’s Department of Social Services is inviting you to a new event called “Military Monday,” geared especially toward veterans to make sure they have access to benefits and other federal, state, and local resources.

The first Military Monday event will take place on March 24, from 9:00 a.m. to noon at Hillsborough Commons on Mayo Street. It will be a Career/Resource Fair, with benefit assistance, career assessments, education resources, the Mobile Vet Center and more.

For more information, contact Betsy Corbett at 919-245-2890.

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Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens will deliver his annual State of the Town address on Monday, March 24, at 7:00 p.m. in the Orange County Public Library.

Among other things, the address will include an update on the town’s Riverwalk project as well as a discussion of Hillsborough’s future population boom. The town is expected to grow by 31 percent in the next four years.

Members of the public are invited to attend. Before the speech, from 5:30-6:30, planning staff will host a public information meeting on the status of downtown access improvements.

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If you’re a parent in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and you’d like more information on the district’s dual language program, the district is offering four information sessions this spring, beginning later this month and running through May.

The Dual Language program gives students the chance to become proficient in two languages, English and either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese. The district says Dual Language students, on average, outperform their peers on standardized tests and other student growth measures.

The first information session will be for the Spanish program on Thursday, March 20, at Frank Porter Graham Elementary School. The session will be offered in Spanish from 6-7 p.m. and in English from 7-8 p.m. Two more sessions on the Spanish program will take place—at the same times of day—on Thursday, April 24 at Carrboro Elementary and on Thursday, May 22, again at FPG.

There will also be an info session on the Mandarin Chinese program on Tuesday, March 25, from 6-7 p.m. at Glenwood Elementary.

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Are you excited about the proposed new Southern Branch Library in Carrboro? What do you want to see there? What do you NOT want to see there?

If you have thoughts and ideas about the library, come out to a Community Engagement Meeting hosted by Orange County. The county is actually holding two meetings: the first is Tuesday, March 25, at 6:00 at Hickory Tavern; the second is on Saturday, April 12, at noon in Carrboro Town Hall. The first 50 participants at the March 25 meeting will receive gift certificates to Hickory Tavern.

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The Hillsborough Arts Council has announced a partnership with a new charter school coming to Hillsborough this August.

The Expedition School will be taking part in the Art Council’s ArtCycle program, a program that collects new and used art supplies to be used in local schools.

The Expedition School is scheduled to open its doors in August. It’s a STEM-focused school for grades K-8.

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Driving around this month, you might see some new signs on the road – all part of a local campaign to remind people to pull over if they see emergency vehicles coming their way.

The campaign is called “See the Light, Pull to the Right.” The idea came from a town employee, Fire Equipment Operator Luis Rodrigues. Six new signs are being installed near major intersections in Chapel Hill.

If an emergency vehicle is approaching you from behind, take your foot off the accelerator, merge to the outside lane if possible, and pull off the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass.

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http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/health-safety-schools-libraries-hillsborough/

Tuesday Fire Causes Thousands In Damage

CHAPEL HILL – A structure fire Tuesday evening caused thousands of dollars of damage in a two-story home at 219 Stagecoach Road.

The Chapel Hill Fire Department responded to a call shortly before 8:00 p.m., finding smoke in the crawl space of the house. Fire crews were able to extinguish the fire within six minutes and there were no injuries, but the residents have been displaced from the home and the damage is estimated to be $5,000.

The Fire Marshal says the blaze was accidental, but hasn’t released a cause of origin. Still, fire officials are taking the opportunity to remind people to keep anything flammable at least three feet away from any heating equipment, including furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters.

http://chapelboro.com/news/fire/tuesday-fire-causes-thousands-damage/

Chapel Hill Hopes Alarm System Registry Deters False Calls

CHAPEL HILL- Starting soon, the Town of Chapel Hill will require all residents and business owners to register their security alarm systems.

This is the first step in a new program designed to reduce the number of false alarms the town’s emergency personnel respond to.

In 2012, police and fire fighters responded to nearly 5,000 alarm calls at a cost of $197,000. But officials say that’s a waste of time and money, as about 95 percent of alarm dispatches turn out to be unfounded.

Last October, the Town Council approved a plan to charge a series of graduated fines to those who report multiple false alarms.

While the town is not yet registering alarm systems, officials are working to hire an independent vendor to run the registration system. Police and fire representatives will be educating the public on how to prevent false alarm activation once that registration system is up and running.

http://chapelboro.com/news/safety/chapel-hill-hopes-alarm-system-registry-deters-false-calls/

CH’s Fire Marshal Search Nearing End

CHAPEL HILL - Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones says the search for a permanent fire marshal is nearing its end.

“We’re actually down to four finalists,” Chief Jones says. “There’s one internal candidate, one out-of-state candidate, and two candidates from elsewhere in North Carolina.”

Matt Lawrence moved from the fire marshal position to Deputy Chief of Operations about ten months ago. Since then, Dace Bergen has held the interim position.

The fire marshal is responsible for the life safety division of the fire department—one which Chapel Hill has been working short on staff.

“They’re responsible for a wide range of things ranging from commercial inspections of businesses,” Chief Jones says. “They do plan reviews on developments and new construction; they do public education programs—a wide variety from fire safety programs for school kids to safety programs for the elderly.”

He says the fire marshal also performs the fire cause determination investigations.

And Chief Jones says there hasn’t been a lack of work in the time in which Bergen has filled the interim spot from a deputy fire marshal position.

“They only have five people in that division to start with, so when you’re one person down, that’s a 20-percent drop in your workforce,” Chief Jones says.

The Chapel Hill Fire Department operates from five fire stations around the town and staffs nearly 100 employees. Its budget is upwards of $7 million, and it’s responsible for protecting more than $7 billion worth of property—of which nearly $5 billion belongs to UNC.

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/chs-fire-marshal-search-nearing-end/

Remembering Ray deFriess Of S. Orange Rescue Squad

CHAPEL HILL – Former Chief of the South Orange Rescue Squad Ray deFriess died Monday of cancer at the age of 60. Chief of the Chapel Hill Fire Department Dan Jones said that deFriess will be remembered for his dedication and more than 40 years of service to our community.

“Ray is going to be very, very missed by a lot of us for a very long time. He is just that kind of person you don’t ever forget,” Jones said.

A native of Rochester, New York, deFriess moved to Chapel Hill in 1960.

After graduating from Chapel Hill High School in 1971, deFriess became one of the founding members of the South Orange Rescue Squad located in Carrboro. He served as Chief from 1984 until 2004, and remained with the squad until earlier this year, even while battling cancer.

“I don’t think there was a special event in this community, Chapel Hill or Carrboro in the last 30 years, whether it was a Fourth of July or a Final Four Celebration or a football game or a UNC basketball game or a Halloween that Ray wasn’t there as part of the EMS coverage,” Jones said.

 

Current Chief of the South Orange Rescue Squad Matthew Mauzy said deFriess enjoyed working with UNC students during EMT training.

“The number of members who have come through the doors of South Orange Rescue Squad either as community members, or as students that have gone on to be doctors, nurses and physicians assistants,” Mauzy said. ”I would guess, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many lives he affected.”

Jones said that deFriess was known for his swift response time in emergency situations.

“He could get to any part of that stadium faster than the young crews that were assigned in that section of the stadium could get there. And it was always a marvel to us,” Jones said. “We couldn’t figure out how he knew where to get in that stadium faster than anybody else, but he could.”

When Jones joined moved to the area in 1990, he said deFriess served as his mentor. Known for his warm and welcoming personality, deFriess was often spotted wearing suspenders, even under his uniform.

“Another thing he was known for was saying, ‘All right.’ He had a way of saying it that it didn’t matter what we were dealing with or what the situation was—if it was a big winter storm—he’d go, ‘All right.’”

One of deFriess’ favorite things to do was to cook for his friends and family.  Jones said that during his later years of service, deFriess would often grill for all of the responders on duty.

DeFriess is survived by his wife of 29 years, Pamela deFriess; his daughter, Natalie deFriess Rigsbee; and his son, Jonathan Ray deFriess.

The funeral service will be on Friday at 12:30 p.m. at Cane Creek Baptist Church in Hillsborough.

In lieu of flowers, the deFriess family asks that donations be made to:

South Orange Rescue Squad
202 Roberson Street
Carrboro, NC 27510

Youth of Cane Creek Baptist Church
6901 Orange Grove Road
Hillsborough, NC 27278

http://chapelboro.com/news/news-around-time/remembering-ray-defriess-former-chief-of-the-south-orange-rescue-squad/

CH Town Council Approves Fining For False Alarms

CHAPEL HLL – The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously approved a new ordinance Monday that will fine home and business owners whose security systems repeatedly trigger false alarms.

The measure, which is planned to take affect in January of 2014, was proposed by members of both the Chapel Hill Fire Department and the Chapel Hill Police Department.

Another provision of the ordinance is that an alarm user must obtain an alarm permit from the Town within 10 business days of the initial operation of the system.

Fire Chief Dan Jones spoke to the Council and said that the department’s research indicated that 95 percent of alarms are false, accidental, or otherwise unfounded.

“The purpose of these alarms is to reduce these accidental alarms that tie up public resources and create unnecessary responses, which is a safety issue for us,” Jones said.

Accidental alarm activations can occur as a result of malfunctioning equipment, human error, or environmental conditions. The ordinance sets civil penalties for excessive false alarms, four or more within a permit year, and failure to obtain applicable alarm permits.

The CHPD responded to 1,250 alarm activations at a cost of $122,400. CHPD Chief Chris Blue also explained why he believed the program was important for the safety of the community.

A routine police alarm response includes at least two officers. A typical fire department alarm response requires up to ten firefighters.

The average time spent on-scene for alarm calls is 17 minutes.

“In the time it takes to clear an alarm, we are tying up half of the town’s fire fighting and emergency response resources,” Jones said.

Jones said that the program will require the equivalent of a full-time staff person and estimated the person will be in office for the first 12 months.

Chief Blue said that both departments will continues researching which alarm systems prove to be the faultiest, with the intention producing a report of the findings for the Council and community.

Council member Lee Storrow said he was concerned about the costs that UNC would accrue due to false alarms, though he was supportive of the program.

http://chapelboro.com/news/local-government/ch-town-council-approves-fining-for-false-alarms/