Fire Departments Urge Plowing of Driveways at Vacant Homes

Assuming last week’s severe weather is not the last winter storm of 2019, local fire departments are urging absentee homeowners to make arrangements to have their driveways and access roads plowed.

Last week, the Egg Harbor Fire Department responded to a fire alarm at a home that had been closed up for the winter. Fire Chief Steven Schopf said the trucks were able to push through the fresh snow, but that won’t always be the case.

“If it’s harder snow, we’re unable to get through, and then if there is an actual fire, we’re not going to be able to get into that residence until that road is plowed,” Schopf said.

“We have gone to fire alarms sounding and arrived to find the driveways aren’t plowed, and we have to walk in,” said Chris Hecht, fire chief of the Sister Bay/Liberty Grove Fire Department. “If we are unfortunate enough to find the structure had a fire, now we have to hand-drag all that equipment in.”

Absentee landowners may believe that once they close down and winterize their home for the season, there should be no threat of fire. But Hecht said that notion is unfounded.

“There is never a time when you can’t say your house is not going to catch on fire,” Hecht said. “They may shut off the heat, but the power is still on, and other things can happen.”

Hecht also said leaving driveways unplowed to deter unwanted visitors pulling up to vacant homes is backward.

“A house that’s not plowed is obviously vacant and is a billboard for, ‘Hey, come take a look at my house,’” he said.

Local fire departments have little recourse in requiring private-property owners to plow their driveways or access roads. Those property owners also have little incentive to pay for clearing a driveway they do not plan to use.

But the cost of a plow through the winter is likely less than the cost of a new home, and local fire department officials encourage keeping driveways clear for the safety of personnel as well.