Dominick Calsolaro

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Safety Second

Legislation to require window guards for apartments inhabited by small children meets resistance in the Albany Common Council

Published on 5/22/2008 by Metroland

Legislation to require window guards for apartments inhabited by small children meets resistance in the Albany Common Council, Metroland, May 22. 2008

It was a fairly common-sense issue for Albany Common Councilman Dominick Calsolaro (Ward 1): Children in Albany have been falling out of apartment windows, and something should be done to prevent that from happening. The councilman was surprised, however, when his proposed legislation, which would require property owners to install window guards in second-story apartments and higher where children 10 or younger reside, was met with opposition from Albany Fire Chief Robert Forezzi and fellow Common Council members during a meeting of the council’s Law Committee last week.

Forezzi, and other opponents of Calsolaro’s bill, brought up concerns about fire safety, concerns about enforcing the law, liability issues for the city, and costs that would be incurred by landlords required to install the guards.

Councilman Corey Ellis (Ward 3) said he felt the arguments against Calsolaro’s proposed law lacked substance. “The reasons for people not supporting it were not valid,” said Ellis. “Some who opposed it brought up the issue of firefighter safety. So, I asked the chief for the number of firefighters he knows who have been injured by not being able to get out of a building because of window guards. They are designed so kids can’t open them, not adults. And he didn’t have an answer. They need to give me a reason we can’t do it, especially because Boston and New York City are able to do it. So why can’t we do it here?”

Calsolaro modeled his legislation after a law that exists in New York City and a volunteer program in Boston called “Kid’s Can’t Fly,” which promotes the use of window guards. New York City implemented their program in 1976. New York City’s Health Department Web site describes the program as a resounding success: “In 1976 there were 217 window falls reported. Only three years later, after the program was created, there were only 80 reported falls. During calendar year 2002 there were three preventable falls reported to the Window Falls Prevention Program.”

Councilman Michael O’Brien (Ward 12) said he admires Calsolaro’s motives, but describes his ordinance as “overkill.” “We already have an ordinance, which is an anti-burglary ordinance, that can be adapted for Dominick’s purposes. It states that every rental unit on the first floor should have window pegs so the window won’t open more than 6 inches. We could modify the existing ordinance so that in rental units all floors will have window pegs installed.” O’Brien notes the peg solution would be a cheaper alternative to guards, but would put more responsibility on the tenant.

Calsolaro said he is aware that there are issues with his bill, but that no piece of legislation is ever perfect, and he feels it is important to get the legislation on the books. The councilman added that he may try to go forward with an alternative ordinance requiring window pins.

Calsolaro acknowledged that the issue of enforcement is complicated and would likely work simply on an honor system; after being accepted as tenants, renters would inform landlords that they have a child age 10 or under and would like window guards installed.

However, Calsolaro found a number of arguments against the bill to be absurd. “The fire chief’s arguments were kind of foolish,” said Calsolaro, “He brought up liability issues: ‘What if we check a window guard and found it OK, and then someone got hurt and we later found out the guard is damaged? Now the city is liable.’

That is nonsense, insisted Calsolaro. “It is the same with anything they inspect; the city is not sued if a smoke detector they inspect does not work five months after they inspect it.”

O’Brien said that Forezzi is looking into window-guard programs in Boston and New York. He also said that a new piece of equipment, purchased by the fire department to allow firemen to rappel out of high-story windows when trapped in a burning building, might be disrupted by window guards.

According to Calsolaro, the chief argued that adding window guards to their inspection list would take up more valuable time during inspections. However, Calsolero said he doubts that checking on window guards would add significant extra time once an inspection is underway.

Calsolaro said he found the argument about the cost of window guards being prohibitive to landlords to be a weak one—especially, he said, because of a proposal brought up later in the meeting to fine property owners $100 for each day that graffiti remains on their property.

That graffiti-tax proposal was supported by some of the same council members who attacked Calsolaro’s window guard ordinance.

“It’s a criminal act that they didn’t do,” said Calsolaro of graffiti. The city actually has a full-time graffiti removal team, and the graffiti ordinance is designed to address graffiti in a position that is too difficult or costly for the city graffiti removal team to reach.

“I know it looks awful, but it is not the property owner’s fault, and $100 per day is a lot of money,” said Calsolaro. “In fact, $100 would pay for two window guards.” Forrezzi did not return calls for comment.

—David King, May 22, 2008