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A fire alarm malfunction at the Niagara County Courthouse on Tuesday might have prevented a future tragedy, for it revealed that the building's alarm system is not connected to the Lockport Fire Department.

"It's supposed to be, but it isn't," said Lockport Assistant Fire Chief Michael Seeloff.

When asked why it took 15 minutes for the Fire Department to respond to the alarm even though the fire station is only two blocks away, Seeloff said, "We weren't called."

The fire bells started ringing in the courthouse shortly before 4 p.m., and all employees and visitors evacuated the building. As they stood outside on a cold, windy afternoon, they began to grumble about why there were no fire trucks.

Niagara County Sheriff's Department Capt. John Young, in charge of the courthouse security detail, confirmed that the alarm was not transmitted to the dispatchers at the city Fire Department or at Niagara County Fire Control.

Once deputies at the courthouse contacted the fire department by radio, firefighters arrived in less than a minute.

It was the second alarm malfunction since the courthouse's new handicapped-accessible entrance off the Park Avenue parking lot opened last month.

However, the smoke detector that malfunctioned and triggered the alarm was not in the entrance but outside the second-floor chambers of Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza. There was no fire.

Public Works Commissioner Dorson R. Wilson, whose office is not in the courthouse, was surprised that the Fire Department didn't receive the alarm.

"We tested it when we opened the entrance. We tested it twice," Wilson said. "I'll have to check. I'll have a guy on that (today)."

Said Young, "If a fire happened on a weekend, it could burn until it was out of control and no one would know it."

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