BERLIN — Out of respect to residents and guests, the Berlin Fire Company (BFC), with the unanimous support of the Mayor and Council, would like to limit the hours that the fire siren in town would sound to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The company is also still evaluating the location of its physical fire whistles downtown and could make a decision within the next few weeks to relocate the town hall alarm.
Last week, BFC Chief David Lewis wrote an email to Fred Webster, director of Emergency Services for Worcester County, asking if it would be possible for the county to accommodate the company’s plan to only sound the alarm during the day. Mayor Gee Williams read the email during Monday’s council meeting.
“’The chiefs of the Berlin Fire Company met earlier today and decided that we would like the fire siren to only blow between the hours of 0700 and 2200 every day,’” Lewis wrote.
The company still believes that the siren is vital to the safety and welfare of the town but acknowledged that the number of visitors has grown considerably over the years and that the alarm can be a shock.
“’It seems that the siren blowing at night is causing an unpleasant experience for the guests that may not be accustomed to a fire siren,’” wrote Lewis.
For its part, the town council agreed that limiting the siren to only sound between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. was the right decision and wrote its own letter of support to Webster for the BFC’s proposal. Following that vote, the mayor also updated the council on the company’s ongoing siren site evaluation.
Discussion on possible siren re-location began within the BFC in June but became energized following a siren malfunction on July 4. The siren sounded for roughly 30 minutes around dawn of that morning, allegedly confusing some of the town’s visitors and frustrating at least a few residents. A petition to have the siren relocated briefly circulated on social media before being taken down. The petition did receive some criticism from residents who supported the necessity of the siren and felt that a rare malfunction didn’t justify causing a stir.
No matter the petition’s intent, siren re-location was something that the company was looking at even before the malfunction.
While BFC President David Fitzgerald defended in an interview last month the need for sirens as both community alerts and a crucial backup for when technology fails, the company is open to looking at other locations for alarm placement, he said.
BFC officers are currently examining the siren on town hall and possible alternate sites. The issue is expected to come up during the company’s next regular meeting scheduled for Aug. 11. At that time, leadership will likely make the call on whether a recommendation to move the downtown siren should be made or if it is best serving the community where it is now.
“I think we all anxiously will wait. Obviously, it won’t probably be until the later part of August before we have a chance to hear a report from the Berlin Fire Company,” said Williams
On the county end, Webster confirmed this week that his office has received the BFC’s request but still has some questions and suggestions and would like to discuss the issue further.
“They have, in fact, reached out to us. I sent a reply back to the chief with a couple of proposals and I have not heard anything back from them at this point in time,” said Webster. “I’m expecting to hear back from them after they’ve had their meeting but haven’t heard anything back at this point.”
Webster did not disclose the specifics of the proposals that his office sent back to the BFC. However, he did reveal that in response to the company’s request to quiet the siren between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., the county returned three alternative proposals for review.
When asked if there were any major concerns with only sounding the Berlin siren during the day, Webster said there are points worth investigating but nothing that causes the county any great distress. If the siren does stop sounding at night regularly, it could take some time for people to get used to the idea.
In those cases, people should be extra aware that when the siren does sound at night it would not be for a fire or accident but for something major like a tornado or hazardous material release.
“If they heard the siren go off at 1 a.m., then they would know that it would be some type of emergency along those lines,” said Webster.