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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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

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.

Worker Falls From Construction Site On W. Rosemary

CHAPEL HILL - A worker fell while doing construction on W. Rosemary St. Wednesday afternoon and then was safely rescued by the Chapel Hill Fire Department.

The worker fell 10 feet from a concrete pillar onto the top floor of the Shortbread Lofts construction site. The Chapel Hill Fire Rescue, Chapel Hill Police Department, and Orange County EMS responded to the call, which came in just after 3:30 p.m.

The rescue effort took about 35 minutes as the worker was lowered using the CHFD’s Tower 73 Aerial apparatus. Parts of Rosemary St. were closed during that time.

The worker was transported to UNC Hospitals; authorities haven’t release his name or condition at this time.

Police And Fire Officials Seek To Silence False Alarms

CHAPEL HILL- Police officers and fire fighters have to respond to each and every security alarm in Chapel Hill, but the town’s high rate of false alarms costs the departments and taxpayers nearly $200,000 each year.

Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue told the Town Council on Monday that in just the past two months alone, more than 95 percent of the alarm calls his department has responded to have been accidental.

“Just between July 9 and September 4 of this year, the police department was dispatched to 567 total alarms. Only 25 of those turned out to be legitimate activations, so you can see the numbers speak for themselves there.”

Depending on the type of alarm, the standard response usually involves two police officers or as many as 10 firefighters, fully one half of the available fire personnel on duty at any given time. Each false alarm call typically takes about 20 minutes to resolve.

Blue said prior efforts to reduce the number of false alarms have not been successful.

“For a number of years we’ve talked to the business community and neighborhood groups about the issue and about our interest in reducing those accidental false alarms,” said Blue. “And I think the community gets it, but we have not been successful in reducing the numbers.”

Instead, Blue is proposing a graduated fee system for business or home owners whose security systems repeatedly trigger false alarms.

The interest there is not to generate revenue, although there is an interest in at least recovering some of our costs,” said Blue. “But we do know that other communities, when they have instituted a fee structure, have seen that as a more effective way to reduce activations than just sharing the problem with the community and appealing to them for their help.”

Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones told the council this fee would apply to calls from UNC campus, as those account for a significant number of false alarms.

“We do respond to the university and it’s a very high percentage,” said Jones. “The university is about 30 to 34 percent of our workload, and our false alarm rate is about 30 percent of that call volume.”

The exact  fee system has yet to be determined, but Blue and Jones will return to the council with a proposal next month. The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance on October 28.

Pink Heals! Fire Truck Parade Friday For Cancer Research

CHAPEL HILL – On Friday, Chapel Hill will play host to the Pink Heals tour–a national firefighters’ tour to raise money for cancer research–with not one, but two parades on Franklin Street and a display of pink fire trucks at University Mall.

The Pink Heals tour is the project of Guardians of the Ribbon, a six-year-old nonprofit with 34 chapters nationwide and a fleet of 80 pink fire trucks that travel around the country to help fight cancer. This will be its first-ever stop in Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones and UNC Lineberger Center special events coordinator Jennifer Bowman joined Aaron Keck on WCHL’s Thursday Afternoon News to discuss the event.

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The tour begins at 10:00 a.m. as the trucks arrive at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, greeted by the Chapel Hill FD’s signature Carolina blue trucks and UNC’s Rameses; firefighters will visit with patients at the hospital for the rest of the morning.

At 12:30, the trucks will lead a parade in downtown Franklin Street, westbound from Hillsborough to Graham Streets and back up Rosemary to 140 West, where the pink trucks will be on display for the early afternoon. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt will deliver remarks at 1:15.

Then at 2:30, the trucks will be on the move again–down the Franklin Street hill to University Mall, where they’ll be on display again until leaving at 5:30. (Donations will be accepted at both 140 West and University Mall.)

EPA Praises CH Fire Department In Gas Leak Response

Pictured: Gas Leak Response; Photo by Julie McClintock of the Booker Creek Watershed Alliance

CHAPEL HILL – The Environmental Protection Agency is praising the efforts of the Chapel Hill Fire Department for the way it responded to Friday’s gas leak at the Family Fare BP off Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Questions still linger, though, about  what impact the leak will have on our local environment.

Kenneth Rhame, On-Scene Coordinator for the EPA, says at this point the EPA does not have an official number of  how many gallons of gasoline leaked into Crow Branch Creek.

“Before the spill was contained, the Fire Department had ordered resources like getting soil, rock, piping, and constructed the underflow dam that is just north of N. Lakeshore Drive in order to ensure that the spill was contained,” Rhame says.

Rhame explains that the quick response of the CHFD made the difference in keeping a bad situation from turning into something much worse.

“Normally for the construction part, they will wait for contractors to arrive on site to do that [respond to the leakage]. Here, they used various city assets to get it done. I think it ultimately prevented more environmental impact than what would have happened,” Rhame says.

The Fire Department worked in conjunction with the Chapel Hill Police Department, Orange County Emergency Services and the N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Division of Water Quality.



The EPA provided air monitoring to make sure that the public and response agencies weren’t being exposed to any harmful odors. The residential areas were not endangered, but the site itself had elevated readings

Rhame explains that Bishop Construction Company was doing renovation work at the BP last Thursday and needed a pump to drain the rainwater from a footing hole connected to a pipe leading to a Town storm drain. When the rain began to accumulate, it caused the footing hole to cave in, and then falling concrete punctured a hole in the fiber glass tank below. The leaking gasoline flowed into Crow Branch, a feeder to Booker Creek and Eastwood Lake.

“Since they had a submersible pump in the excavation, a lot of the petroleum that was released was pumped directly to the storm drain,” Rhame says.

Danny Smith, Regional Supervisor for the DENR Division of Water Resources, believes that Crow Branch was the only body of water affected. His crew was on site Tuesday assessing the current situation. Smith says they are awaiting the analysis of water samples collected from several creek branches but don’t expect to get the results until later this week or early next week.

“One of the things that we are looking into is how much product remained in the tank and how much was de-watered from the sump pump from their excavation. The window of time that the pump was in operation will help us to get a better handle on the volume of product that may have gotten into the stream,” Smith says.

Smith explains that the gas station’s tank had two compartments which hold 6,000 gallons of gasoline each. One of those compartments was breached by the falling concrete.

“So certainly there was product that was released, and there was a lot of product that was available to be released, but not all of it was,” he says.

Rhame says that trace amounts of the gasoline remain in the stream, adding “You get this bathtub effect where the water goes up and down, and you’ll get some sheening along the banks where the gas was caught up in vegetation.”

He expects the total clean-up to last a month, but the active recovery process will take about a week more. He says the DENR will continue to monitor the situation.

“They still have petroleum collection equipment mobilized out there,” Rhame says. “They still have absorbent booms and pads that they are using to pick up the residual. I would say that stuff will stay in place for about a week or two just to catch anything residual as rains occur.”

Bishop Construction Company and the gas station are considered the “potentially responsible parties,” but Rhame says the EPA hasn’t taken any subsequent action at this point. He says the construction company has been “very cooperative” and brought in Zebra Private Remediation Services to help in the clean-up.  Zebra’s vacuum truck was used to remove the remaining gasoline on site to prevent further leakage.