Emergency replacement of Boyle jail fire alarm system authorized

Published 8:33 am Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Boyle County Fiscal Court declared an emergency Wednesday morning and authorized spending up to $40,000 to replace the local jail’s aging fire alarm system.

But approval from magistrates didn’t come without some questions about and critiques of the situation.

To kick off the special called meeting of the fiscal court, Boyle County Detention Center Captain Chad Holderman laid out the situation:

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The fire alarm system at the jail, which also serves the other agencies in the complex — Boyle County EMS, Boyle County Road Department and the recycling center — has been malfunctioning with false alarms recently.

Holderman called in Vulcan Fire Systems Inc. to look at the system; Vulcan determined there is a bad pull station and to fix it, the entire fire alarm system would have to be shut down.

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Boyle County Detention Center Captain Chad Holderman explains issues with the jail’s fire alarm system to members of the Joint Jail Committee Friday. Holderman attended a special called meeting of the Boyle County Fiscal Court Wednesday to explain the situation to magistrates.

It would cost $1,000 to shut down the system and fix the problem. But because of the age of the system — it runs on MS-DOS — Vulcan doubts the system will start back up and function after it’s shut down. In that event, the jail would need an entirely new fire panel, as well as updated modules throughout the system.

The cost for upgrading to a new system is expected to run in the vicinity of $36,000, but could be more depending on what issues are encountered during the installation process. Some of that cost would be shared by the other departments that share the system with the jail.

Magistrates weren’t interested in the $1,000 solution given the age of the existing system. Holderman said the system was installed in 1998, when MS-DOS was already obsolete by three years.

But magistrates did want to know why the problem hadn’t been brought to their attention before.

“If I heard you right, you’ve had a history of issues for this system. Is that correct?” Caywood asked Holderman.

Holderman replied that issues with the system have occurred at times, and the jail would always contact Vulcan and have the problem repaired or a malfunctioning part replaced.

“When we have a problem, how come we’re not aware of it, made aware of the problem at that time?” Magistrate Phil Sammons asked.

“It’s just like plumbing — we wouldn’t tell you when a sink quit working because it was easily fixed. And it (the alarm system) has been easily fixed,” Holderman said.

“Captain, there’s a difference between a plumbing problem and a fire emergency problem,” Caywood said. “So let’s raise the priority if we could. … False alarms tell me that something is wrong. When something is wrong with a fire alarm, that’s huge to me.”

“And that’s why we brought Vulcan in — because of the alarms,” Holderman said.

“I understand that, but this issue to me is a mental thing of where our priorities are and how we handle those that are a great problem, potentially … vs. a plumbing problem,” Caywood said.

Holderman and Jailer Barry Harmon said Vulcan was called in when the system began having more frequent false alarms. Last Wednesday — the day after the fiscal court’s most recent regular meeting — was when Vulcan let the jail know about the situation.

On Friday, the problem was discussed by the Boyle-Mercer Joint Jail Committee, which recommended the Boyle fiscal court take emergency action. After that meeting, Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney called Wednesday’s special meeting for the purpose of dealing with the fire alarm system issue.


Normally, projects that cost more than $20,000 must be bid by public agencies such as the fiscal court. But in emergency situations where health, life or property is put at risk, governments are allowed to declare an emergency and not seek bids.

Vulcan’s base price for upgrading the system is $35,814, according to a document provided by Holderman. The document provides some additional, optional costs, including one Holderman recommended: $735 to replace the power supplies for the system modules. The existing power supplies still work, but have never been replaced and are likely near the ends of their useful lives, Holderman said.

The price includes a “CyberCAT 1016 control panel,” the main panel that runs the system. Holderman said the panel is capable of controlling around 1,000 devices and can be uninstalled and moved to a new location if the jail is renovated or rebuilt. The current system can handle around 12 0 devices.

A less sophisticated control panel is available for $500 less that only manages up to around 250 units, Holderman said. Magistrates were in agreement that it made sense to pay the extra $500 for the better control panel.

A “cost breakdown by department” document shows that for the equipment alone, the costs are expected to be about $8,000 for the jail; around $356 for the Boyle County Road Department; around $247 for Boyle County EMS; and about $162 for the recycling center. Total labor cost is listed at $24,750.53 and there’s an additional $2,292.78 in shared system equipment, neither of which have been broken down by department.

Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley said the jail’s portion of the costs will come out of the joint jail savings account. That savings account has close to $297,000 in it, according to the Joint Jail Committee’s January financial report. Boyle County will have to be prepared to spend a “significant amount of general fund money” to cover the costs for the other departments, she said.

Magistrates asked that officials look into what kind of warranty comes with the system; Magistrate Caywood requested that the county notify its insurance company of what’s going on and make sure it’s covered for the situation.

‘Fire watch’ patrols

Vulcan estimates installation of the new system will take 20 business days, with two employees working eight hours a day, Holderman said. The soonest the company can begin is the first full week of February — Monday, Feb. 5, he said. If the full 20 business days are used, installation would be complete on March 2.

The jail was due to have its fire system inspected this month, but Holderman said the Department of Corrections has agreed to accept the plan for the new system in lieu of an inspection.

The current system must be shut down while the new one is installed, meaning the jail won’t have a permanent fire alarm system functioning during that time. Instead, the jail will have standalone fire alarms purchased and staff will have to make 30-minute “fire watch” patrols, Holderman said.

To complete a patrol, someone must check every room in the jail for any signs of smoke or fire every 30 minutes. Jail staff timed it on Tuesday and believe it will be possible for one person to make the rounds within the 30-minute constraint, Holderman said.

The jail will need to hire four temporary workers to make the patrols — one for each shift at the jail. The temporary workers will receive basic training and then their sole job will be to conduct patrols for the whole shift. The jobs will pay $11.50 an hour with no benefits; the jail already has two of the four needed lined up, Holderman said.

The fire watch patrollers must all be women, because of a state requirement: Female jail employees are allowed to open doors into male-inmate cells, but male jail employees are not allowed to open doors into female-inmate cells, Holderman said.

Declaring an emergency

Ben Kleppinger/ben.kleppinger@amnews.com
Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney asks a question about the Boyle County Detention Center’s fire alarm system during Friday’s Joint Jail Committee meeting.

McKinney asked if, before any motion was made, everyone understood the situation and what the fiscal court needed to approve.

“We’re paying $37,000 for a bunch of junk,” Magistrate Sammons said.

“You can’t go on the record as saying this is junk, now,” McKinney responded. “We’ve got to come back to order now — if it’s junk, I’m not going to vote for it.”

“Is it junk?” McKinney asked Holderman.

“Not to my knowledge,” Holderman responded.

“Is it junk?” McKinney asked Jailer Harmon.

“Not to my knowledge,” Harmon said.

McKinney questioned Boyle County Engineer Duane Campbell, who also confirmed he doesn’t think the system is “junk” and it seems like a good system.

During the meeting, officials also noted county Information Technology Director Bill Nichols had said the system looked appropriate and that the current system is legitimately outdated and Vulcan is not trying a “sales pitch.”

McKinney continued to push back on Sammons’ comment.

“I want to make sure that everybody understands what we’re doing, and I know you said it in jest, Magistrate Sammons, but we’re not going to buy something — if you all think it’s junk, we’re not going to buy it.”

“Well, I didn’t really mean it,” Sammons responded.

Sammons ultimately made the motion to declare an emergency and authorize spending up to $40,000 to replace the fire alarm system. The motion was quickly seconded and passed unanimously without further discussion.