Sirens still crucial for alerting firefighters
The wail of fire sirens can be heard day and night in small towns across America.
Volunteers rush from work or home to man fire trucks and ambulances to rush to a burning house, an accident scene or a heart attack victim. Every second counts.
While some may question the need for fire sirens in this age of technology with pagers and cell phones, area fire chiefs still consider the sirens vital to their response to emergencies.
Pagers and cell phones don’t always work and not all firefighters have them or always wear them. The only way they are certain to find out about an emergency is the siren, said Chief Roger Steiner of the Great Cacapon Volunteer Fire Company.
If Steiner is out on his lawn tractor, he won’t hear his pager, but he will hear the fire siren, which can be heard up to four miles away.
The sirens now blow in Morgan County for one minute, cycling up and down. It used to be three minutes, Steiner said.
Dave Michael, Morgan County Emergency Services director, said the sirens have a long constant wail for 15 to 30 seconds for medical assists.
They can also be used to alert residents to disasters, tornados and severe thunderstorms.
In an emergency weather or disaster alert, there will be a three-minute long wail that cycles up and down at a faster pace, he said.
Paging goes down
Paw Paw Fire Chief Steve Moreland said everyone has pagers, but their paging system has gone down many times over the years.
When their siren was out for repair around 1998, not everyone had pagers and it was hard to get people to respond, he said.
Most times the siren starts blowing before the pagers go off, which could mean the difference between life and death, he said.
If someone comes to the fire hall sick or hurt, all they have to do is push the button for the siren.
The sirens alert firefighters who can’t afford pagers, which cost about $550 apiece, said Berkeley Springs Fire Chief J.J. Steiner. About
half of their members have them.
The fire department doesn’t have enough money to
buy pagers for everyone.
It would take around $16,000, he said.
The cost of maintaining pagers is also high. New batteries runs $24 and the initial cost for maintenance and repair is $110 since it’s a sealed unit. These costs are paid by members, Steiner said.
The alert system comes through 911 said Michael. Sometimes dispatchers call him to go to the fire hall and set off the siren, which sits atop the Ice House.
Steiner felt the fire siren is important as a backup source of communication if pager batteries are dead or pagers are not available.
The siren not only alerts fire department members, but also the community, Steiner said.
They let townspeople know that emergency vehicles will be coming, Michael said.
Sirens relied on
South Morgan Fire Chief Mark Miller said 15 to 20 firefighters live within the radius of their siren and rely on it to draw enough members for an engine crew.
The siren is also set to go off if there’s a fire or a break-in at the fire hall.
“If it starts blowing and the pagers don’t go off, we’re making a beeline to the firehouse to see what’s going on,” Miller said.
Their paging is done from 911 and that system can go down. “Nothing’s foolproof,” Miller said.
For some, the sound of the siren is reassuring because they know help is on the way.
Michael said that a few people who have called 911 for help have called back and asked if anyone was coming because they hadn’t heard the fire siren.