Berlin Fire Company Probing Fire Siren Relocation; Alarms Still Needed Despite Technology

Berlin Fire Company Probing Fire Siren Relocation; Alarms Still Needed Despite Technology
Berlin Fire

BERLIN — A malfunctioning fire siren in Berlin earlier this month reignited some frustration among residents and seems to have prompted a few to question the alarm’s necessity.

This week the Berlin Fire Company (BFC) defended the need for the decades old siren, but leaders confirmed they will be conducting their own evaluation as to whether the alarms should be re-located or remain as they are.

Right around dawn on the morning of July 4, the siren that sits behind town hall experienced a malfunction, subjecting residents to roughly 30 minutes of alarm. The sound was subdued compared to normal alerts, but still produced significant noise. While inarguably disorienting, BFC President David Fitzgerald said that this was probably only the second malfunction of the siren in his 26 years with the company.

Though infrequent, the malfunction has caused some frustration among residents who were concerned particularly about the siren because Hurricane Arthur was churning off the coast. It’s fair to note that even when working perfectly the siren behind town hall, as well as the one on Franklin Avenue, grabs a lot of attention whenever it fires off during emergencies.

A signature gathering effort seems to be underway in Berlin with the intent of asking the BFC to re-locate the alarm. Although its origin is unclear, The Dispatch obtained a copy of the informal petition this week from social media. It has been seen at the Berlin Coffee House in recent weeks, but there are no current plans to present it to the BFC and the signature gathering effort has since been abandoned, according to Berlin Coffee House owner Peggy Hagy, who said she supports the BFC wholeheartedly.

Under the title, “Petition To Do Away With The Fire Siren Above Town Hall,” it reads, “Fourth of July, at 6:10, the fire siren went off and stayed on for a good 27 minutes. The guest at the [Atlantic] Hotel were irate and confused because Hurricane Arthur was scheduled for the 4th. … The siren is redundant to the one just 1 ½ miles up the road. Firemen “in the fields” should hear that siren. There can’t possibly be the need for another one so close by. Cell phones  and pagers are used by all volunteer firemen and two sirens within eye view of each other is ridiculous. For the sake of our visitors and guests, and the sanity of our residents, we are placing this petition before the Vol. Fire Company to remove the offending siren from atop Town Hall. It took a lot to be the coolest small town, but it won’t take much to topple that if enough guests and visitors complain about the siren.”

Fitzgerald confirmed that the company has heard the rumors of a petition this week but were already been examining the possibility of re-locating the siren even before the malfunction.

“The location is something that the fire company has recently discussed. The town had asked us about 30 days ago,” he said. “They want to re-locate that siren from behind town hall to a taller pole to get it above the businesses and above the homes about a block away.”

Following initial discussion with the town and now the recent malfunction, Fitzgerald revealed that the BFC plans on having its officers review the current placement of its alert sirens in Berlin over the next month.

“The fire company’s decision last night was let our officers review the location of the sirens and come back in 30 days with a recommendation to our members,” he said. “But it was strongly recommended to keep all of the sirens activated for 24 hours a day but to review the locations of the sirens.”

Whether or not the company finds that the sirens would serve the community better if re-located, Fitzgerald was adamant that traditional alarms still play a necessary role in protecting the town even in this age of technology and instant communication. There are three reasons that the sirens are vital, according to Fitzgerald, including functioning as a safety net and raising public awareness.

First and foremost, Fitzgerald pointed out that even though the BFC alerts members to emergency calls via both text and pager, the text network has failed in the past.

“While technology has evolved and we do have technology such as text pages, the county has experienced severe difficulty, especially over the last three to four months, with receiving our text pages,” Fitzgerald said.

There are rare times when firefighters won’t be within earshot of their pagers. Supplying enough radios and pagers could also be tough in the future, according to Fitzgerald.

“With the town cutting us over $1 million in our budget over the last three years, we may not be able to continue to provide those pagers to firemen,” he said.

Sirens are also in place for more than just firefighters and paramedics.

“We also want to let the public know that there is an emergency going on so that they’re on the lookout for two things,” Fitzgerald said.

When a siren goes off, residents know that there is an emergency situation underway. At these times, Fitzgerald hopes that people will be on watch for personal vehicles with BFC tags and their lights on as they are most likely members rushing to stations or to calls.

On top of keeping an eye peeled for private BFC vehicles, the sirens alert residents to look out for emergency responders who might be in fast moving fire trucks or ambulances. The final job of the sirens relates to storms and other, wide-impact emergencies that aren’t just located to a house fire or localized incident.

“Thirdly, it is used as part of the civil defense/emergency management for notifications for severe weather to notify you to tune to your local media for further information. So the siren still has a purpose, three purposes,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald reiterated that a re-location of alarms could happen depending on the findings of the company’s investigation. While the siren located next to town hall can be a distraction for downtown residents, it does serve as a safety net for when the BFC’s station alarm runs into issues. The station siren has actually had trouble for the past 30 days, according to Fitzgerald.

“So it’s nice to have those sirens close for a backup, an immediate backup. They also have speakers that point different directions,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.