It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Charles Dickens could have summed up last Friday’s meeting of the Boyle-Mercer County Joint Jail Committee quite well. Just when administrators thought they had some breathing room at the overcrowded jail, another emergency arrived.
The fire alarm system at Boyle County Detention Center needs to be replaced.
Capt. Chad Holderman of BCDC said the system, which was already obsolete when it was installed in 1998, has recently had issues, including false alarms. Holderman contacted Vulcan Fire Systems about repairing the control box before a state inspection on Jan. 27. He was told the system, which runs off Windows 98, would need to be rebooted. But there was a very good chance that, once turned off, it might never start again, leaving BCDC without a functioning fire alarm system.
“That scares the hell out of me,” said Boyle County Judge-Executive Harold McKinney.
Holderman presented the committee with an estimate from Vulcan to replace the system for a little over $35,814. However, state law requires governmental agencies to bid out any job costing over $20,000. The jail committee decided there was no time to waste and declared the repair an emergency and voted to approve purchasing a new system using funds from the jail’s savings account. The purchase is contingent on authorization from the Boyle County Fiscal Court.
“I don’t want to be stampeded, but at the same time time I don’t want to get a phone call that the jail’s on fire and the fire alarm wasn’t working,” McKinney said.
However, there is no quick fix. Holderman said BCDC would be without a working fire alarm during the installation, which could take up to 20 days. While battery-powered smoke detectors could be purchased as a stop gap measure, deputies will have to work extra hours patrolling the jail. Boyle County Jailer Barry Harmon said inmates would also be pressed into service to perform “smoke checks.”
Officials said it won’t be possible to install the new system before the state inspection. However, they said the state would return and assess the fire system once the upgrade is complete. The smoke evacuation system can still be triggered manually if necessary, officials said.
The Mercer County Fiscal Court will address the matter at its next regular meeting on Jan. 23. Harmon was invited to attend and answer any questions.
Boyle County Treasurer Mary Conley did have a question.
“Why are we just not talking about this?” Conley asked. She said there was no contingency fund in place to repair or replace the fire alarm system. “We need to be talking about these things at budget time.”
The estimate also does not include the cost for replacing any relays.
Mercer County Attorney Ted Dean was the only Mercer representative to attend the committee meeting. Judge-Executive Milward Dedman had to attend a funeral.
“I think we’ll muddle through as best we can,” Dean said. “It’s better to do it today at 260 instead of seven months ago at 400.”
It wasn’t all bad news. Harmon told the committee that population at BCDC was 261 as of Friday morning, with 112 from Boyle, 41 from Mercer and 104 state inmates. All of the inmates who were sent to Casey County when BCDC’s population shot up to 400 last year have been brought back.
To learn more, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald.