Officials Cite Recent Strikes, Say High Fine Is Meant To Be A Big Deterrent

CRESSKILL, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — One northern New Jersey town has approved a plan to levy fines against residents who ignore the newly installed severe weather alarms.

As CBS 2’s Derricke Dennis reported, the lightning detection systems are now in effect in most parks in the borough of Cresskill, but not everyone is paying attention.

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Under the ordinance approved unanimously by the Cresskill Borough Council on Wednesday evening, Cresskill residents have 10 minutes to get off a field or out of the pool if the new lightning detection system goes off, or face a fine of up to $1,000.

Ball players on fields all over New Jersey have been told to be aware of the lightning detection alarms, which emit an electronic monotone to alert teams there is a potential for deadly lightning nearby.

Many say the alarm could save lives.

“It gets coaches alert, the people who are coaching on the field and the athletes to get them off the field right away. There’s too many accidents happening now with lightning,” Miguel Rodriguez told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.

“It goes off, everybody’s off the field,” said mother Doreen Sullivan.

Sullivan said she is worried about her 13-year-old son, Paul, playing baseball where lightning can strike. They live in Montvale, where in 2006, two teenagers were killed by lightning during a soccer game.

Burn marks were left on the field.

“I mean they were teenagers — 16, 17 years old — and they’re not here anymore,” Sullivan said.

Another tragic accident happened in nearby Demarest last year.

A 71-year-old man was struck and killed by lightning as he watched his grandson play ball on a field.

But now, officials in several towns have noticed players continuing to play on fields, even when lightning is flashing in the sky and even as detection alarms are going off.

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“People just don’t believe it’s going to hit them; (they think) it’s going to go past them either here it over there,” said Cresskill Borough Administrator Chuck Vaccaro. “It can hit anybody at any time.”

But some residents called the new ordinance ridiculous.

“I don’t know how they’re going to enforce it because if there are 20 kids on the field — and there’s a lot of fields in Cresskill, it’s not just this one — are these kids going to have access to a building to go in and wait until their parents come to pick them up?” Loreen Ulrich told Sloan.

The town does have procedures in place to get people out of harm’s way in the event that the alarms go off.

“When hear the alarm, we pull everybody in,” Cresskill Recreation director Barbara Mann said.

“We’re trained to get everyone out of the pool and off the decks and everything and get them to safe ground. They either need to go wait in their car or the community center,” lifeguard Steve Olmo told Sloan.

Some swimmers questioned just how safe a parking lot is during lightning and complained that the alarm even goes off on nice days.

Two years ago in East Brunswick, a downed wire electrified a pool chain-link fence, trapping swimmers inside. That is why some town officials said this ordinance is important.

Not all towns that use lightning alarms are considering fines. In Ridgewood, public fields have detection systems as well, and the mayor said organized teams already followthe rules.

“They get it probably better than most, how important it is to take this seriously,” said Ridgewood Mayor Paul Aronsohn. “I think what we’re finding is we need to do a better of educating people.”

Authorities said the lightning alarm fine in Cresskill would be a last resort. A verbal warning from police would likely come first.

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