Selectmen mull more notification following problematic practice burn
Searsport — A recent training exercise by the Searsport Fire Department caused scrambling by some town officials after a neighboring tenant raised concerns.
On March 2 the fire department held a training exercise and a controlled burn of 15 Steamboat Ave. In the days leading up to the burn, several neighbors were notified of the exercise. However, one tenant in a neighboring home was not.
Deborah Ayers, who was renting the home next to the one proposed to be burned told selectmen at their March 4 meeting that she was not properly informed about the burn. Ayers has respiratory problems, and objected to the burn happening so close to her residence.
Ayers said she found out about the proposed burn less than a week before it was scheduled to take place. Ayers was eventually able to contact Town Manager James Gillway, who called off the burn on Feb. 28. However, unbeknownst to town officials, the owner of the 15 Steamboat Ave. property had removed several foundation blocks, causing the structure to lean dangerously.
Weighing "competing harms," Gillway decided to go ahead with the burn. Ayers was put up in a hotel for the day the burn took place, and the building was demolished.
Ayers told selectmen the town had performed admirably, once she was able to voice her concerns, but it had failed in its notification process. She credited Webster for his patience on the day of the burn, and for the fire fighters who swept ash from her walk.
"[Gillway] did everything he could do to help me," Ayers said. "He really went above and beyond. It was the days leading up that were tough."
Searsport resident Peter Taber spoke at the meeting and suggested the town consider ways to improve its notification for similar controlled burns. Taber said the state of Illinois requires the fire department to post door hangers in homes within a half-mile radius of a proposed burn.
Taber also questioned the location chosen for the burn, which was close to nearby homes. Taber pointed out that the wind shifted during the burn, blowing smoke against Ayers home.
Selectman Dick Desmaris said that the fire department has learn a great deal from its last few controlled burns. Last summer a home was burned during a training exercise on Jackson Avenue, but no notice was given. Desmaris said that while the Steamboat Avenue burn had done more to give neighbors notice "it could have been improved."
Gillway said the town will consider going door-to-door before future burns and will decide how large of a radius around the proposed burn to canvas.
The selectmen will also consider a new fee schedule for construction permits, and possibly a fine for not obtaining a permit. Gillway said the property owner at 15 Steamboat Ave. did not have a permit to remove part of the foundation, and is required to obtain one after the fact.
Selectman Meredith Ares said she felt the board should consider imposing fines on property owners who do not obtain the proper permits before performing work on their property. Gillway said the owner would be paying for the expenses incurred by the town above and beyond the normal expenses for a fire training exercise.