Michael Helfrich
Michael Helfrich

The York City Council is poised to vote soon on a proposal to terminate the city's 127-year-old fire-alarm system.

No matter how the council ultimately votes, it could be a costly decision.

If the council decides to do away with the Gamewell system - which, when triggered manually or by the presence of smoke, immediately delivers an electronic signal directly to fire stations - the city could lose precious seconds responding to fires.

But, if the council decides to keep Gamewell, the cost to repair the system and its nearly 100 miles of wiring is estimated at more than $730,000.

The council decided at a committee meeting Wednesday to move the proposal forward to its agenda Tuesday. Policy requires the council to introduce ordinance amendments at one meeting and wait two weeks before voting.

That means the council could vote on the proposal to terminate the system as early as the Tuesday, Oct. 15, meeting.

Fire Chief David Michaels has estimated 320 properties, mostly businesses, and 83 street boxes are connected to the Gamewell system.

The proposal, if it passes, would drop the requirement for commercial properties to connect to Gamewell. The proposal is partially driven by city officials' desire to save new business owners the $5,000 it costs to connect.

Instead, businesses would be required to acquire a fire-alarm system monitored by a private company, which would notify local 911 dispatchers after being alerted to a fire. Dispatchers would then notify the fire department.

Those extra steps make modern systems slower than the Gamewell system in terms of response time, officials have said.

For example, Michaels said, reports of a fire on North Pershing Avenue last week came in two different ways.

Someone called 911 first.

"But the first notification to the firefighters was the Gamewell," Michaels said.

While dispatchers took the caller's report, someone else manually triggered a nearby street box, sending an electronic signal to the city's fire stations, where bells ring. The signal includes the location of the box.

The difference was a matter of seconds, Michaels said.

"That's why, in my mind, the technology from 1886 is actually better - because you're not having to talk to this human," Councilman Michael Helfrich said. "It's not a technology issue. It's a human issue."

The amount of time it would take to repair the Gamewell system would depend on the funding available, public works director Jim Gross said.

"I think five years would be a reasonable time frame if you're going to try to replace all the wiring and all the circuits," he said.

If the council votes to terminate Gamewell, the process of decommissioning the system could also take years.

First, Michaels said, the city would remove the street boxes so as to eliminate any false sense of security.

As for the rest of the infrastructure, removing it could be done by city employees as time allows, Gross said.

"It's not hurting anything being there," he said.

- Reach Erin James at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.