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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Fire alarm before Jew Pond debate wasn’t a prank, it was physics

MONT VERNON – The fire alarm that disrupted the region’s most-anticipated Town Meeting discussion Tuesday night was, as many people suspected, neither an annoying prank nor an act of political sabotage.

It was just physics.

“Apparently some cleaning fluids vaporized in the back of the school, and that’s what set off the alarm,” Mont Vernon Selectman Jack Esposito said. “The timing was absolutely unbelievable. We were just about to start the discussion about Jew Pond.”

The alarm disrupted a Town Meeting just as the controversial issue about renaming the pond was to come up.

After the alarm sounded, everybody had to leave the Mont Vernon Village School and stand outside in the parking lot for a half-hour while the Fire Department checked out that it was safe to return.

Going outside was easier said than done for the dozen volunteers counting paper ballots from the day’s election, who had to carry them all outside, properly collated, and keep them separated and intact to maintain the integrity of the ballot.

When everybody returned, it took another 90 minutes of debate to decide that the name Jew Pond had to go. Selectmen will decide the process by which a new name is chosen.

Modern smoke detectors can be set off not just by smoke but by a variety of aerosolized particles in the air. Depending on the alarm’s mechanism, these particles either deflect light beams or disrupt ionizing radiation when they float into the detector, completing a current and setting off an alarm.

As some cleaning fluids evaporate, they can produce enough of such particles to set off a smoke detector, which apparently happened Tuesday night.