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Article updated: 12/31/2012 1:48 PM

Fire-alarm calls abound at Palatine group homes

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Between January 2010 and May 2012, 16 group homes that seven organizations operate in Palatine posted 102 calls for police and fire services, according to documents obtained under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Of those, the most frequent reports were 38 calls for activated fire alarms. Arlington Heights reported similar results: out of 81 calls for service, 34 of them that had to do with fire alarms.

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Both departments report they are almost always responding to fire alarms that were set off because someone was cooking something a little too long.

Group homes are required to have fire alarm systems and once fumes touch the devices, which are located in the ceiling, the sensitive system has a mechanism that signals the dispatch center on its own.

More often than not, the alarms are set off due to cooking, cleaning or construction dust, said Palatine Deputy Fire Chief Patrick Gratzianna.

Once the alarm is activated, a crew goes out to confirm there were no issues and then resets the system with the dispatch center. Officials then confirm that the system is fully functioning again.

A call for an activated fire alarm typically takes between 10 and 20 minutes to process, but that depends on how badly the residents burned the food, Gratzianna quipped.

"Our job is to kind of alleviate the stress, kind of diffuse the situation," Gratzianna said. "A lot of times we show up, they don't know we're en route."

Gratzianna, who has been with the fire department for 18 years, can't remember the last time there was a fire at any of the group homes. And he said it's rare for a resident to deliberately activate a fire alarm.

In Arlington Heights, when there's an inordinate number of fire alarms at a specific address, personnel either write a citation or investigate to see whether there's a reason the alarms keep going off, Fire Chief Glenn Ericksen said.

"I'm not aware of us having to do that with any of the group homes," Ericksen said.

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