Fire siren: Blast from past or needed for emergencies?

By Lynn R. Parks

The Seaford Volunteer Fire Department is considering doing away with its siren. A committee is looking at the pros and cons of having a siren and is expected to report back to the department in about six weeks. The siren has been removed from the fire hall as part of the building's renovation. That, said Robert Kripaitis, whose Arch Street home is about 90 yards from the fire hall, is "the best thing that ever happened." Kripaitis sent a letter to Mayor Dan Short, asking that the "piercing" siren not be put back up. But the Seaford Downtown Association, made up of merchants in the High Street area, has sent letters to the city and to the department, asking that the siren be reinstalled as soon as possible. "It's a big safety issue," said Dick Collison, a member of the association. Wayne Rigby, department president, said that the siren was taken down in August so that the fire hall roof could be replaced. The siren was on a tower that penetrated the flat roof; that tower is being eliminated as part of the renovation and the department planned to put the siren on a radio antenna next to the fire hall. But the department's insurance company was not immediately comfortable with that idea, Rigby said. The insurance company was concerned that the siren could interfere with transmissions from the tower. So for now, the newly-repainted siren is in storage. If the fire department decides to reinstall it, it will be placed on the radio tower, if the insurance company agrees, or on a separate pole put up just for that purpose. The siren is no longer needed to call firefighters to the station. For about 10 years, firefighters have had electronic beepers that notify them of a fire. But the siren, which is not blown between 10 p.m. and the early morning, is valuable in warning people who live in the vicinity of the station that volunteer firefighters will be racing to the station, and that fire trucks will be pulling out, Rigby said. The trucks answer about 500 calls a year, Rigby said. The siren is blown six times for each call. Firefighters get to the station mostly from High Street and the one-way Pine Street.

"We are especially worried about Pine Street," Rigby said. "It is one-way and very narrow, with parking on both sides. Children play along Pine Street. And when the siren goes off, it is a warning to people in the neighborhood that they seem to heed." "I don't need that kind of protection," said Kripaitis. The fire siren is also an indication to people traveling through downtown along High Street that a fire policeman will be at the intersection of Cannon and High, directing traffic. Collison, who usually takes care of that job, said that people seem confused about what he is doing in the middle of the street when there is no siren blowing. To make room for fire engines going south on Cannon to turn onto High Street, motorists are supposed to stop well before they get to the intersection, at white lines that are painted there. Collison said that when the siren is blowing, they know to do that. "But now, when I put my hand up for them to stop, they pull right up into the intersection," he said. "Without the siren, they don't know what I am doing out there. There have been some close calls with fire engines." Sara Lee Thomas, owner of the Fantasy Beauty Salon on High Street and president of the Seaford Downtown Association, said that the siren gives her customers warning that fire engines will soon be racing down the street. "Customers like to know to take care for fire trucks or volunteers trying to get to the station," she said. "Most of them are happy to pull over or wait in the shop until the engines have gone." Rigby acknowledged that the siren is loud. "Understandably, it upsets some neighbors," he said. "Some people in the area are shift workers, others might be on the phone when the siren blows. We understand that that is a problem." "When it goes off, it's almost like it can lift you right off your feet," said Kripaitis. "It has been so pleasant without it going off." "I loathe the siren," added Charlotte Stephany, who lives on Pine Street right across from the station. "I appreciate the silence we have without it there." Rigby has no emotional attachment to the siren. "We used to have a bell at the station, and that is in the fire museum," he said. "We used to have 10 sirens placed around the city, and a couple of them are in the fire museum. The question is, is there a good reason to use it or not."

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