Are emergency sirens obsolete?

Most volunteer fire departments here use them
Jun. 08, 2014 @ 08:27 AM

At least once a day Norma and Jim Dorion, who are retired, are jolted by the shrill blasts of the warning siren at the Valmead Volunteer Fire Department notifying volunteers of an emergency call.

In Ohio, where Jim Dorion served as a volunteer firefighter for 12 years, such sirens go off only for tornado warnings, and Norma Dorion wonders why the siren and others across Caldwell County are still in regular use in the age of cellphones and text messaging.

"Why isn't this siren saved for conditions such as a tornado like in other areas?" Norma Dorion said. "It's really annoying. I would imagine the person in charge of using the siren here does not live next to us."

Actually, there is no uniform policy by the state or the county on the use of sirens.

The N.C. Fire Marshal's Office requires volunteer fire departments to use sirens, pagers or a telephone system to alert their volunteers, said Rick McIntyre, senior deputy commissioner for the state fire marshal's office. Most use two methods because that earns a break on insurance premiums.

"It's primarily up to a local department to decide how best to notify their members," McIntyre said. "Back in the day, a majority of members, particularly in rural counties such as Caldwell, were out in the field where they could hear the siren, as opposed to a pager. As for alerting citizens, that becomes a decision for local emergency management. As the population changed, people moved inside more and are less able to hear a general siren, usually what works best is a combination of methods."

Most departments in Caldwell County use the siren as initial notification, Capt. Larry Price of the Collettsville Fire Department said. "When someone calls 911, and they (the dispatchers) call us, we sound off the siren."

The calls a fire department receives can range from a cat stuck in a tree to a house fire or a serious car wreck.

Grace Chapel uses pagers and phone notifications for most calls, and uses its siren only for the most serious emergencies, sometimes only once a year. The North Catawba Volunteer Fire Department doesn't use its siren at all, Chief Randy Swanson said.

"The siren doesn't do us any good anymore," Swanson said. "Now we only rely on pager systems and texts. With today's technology, there's no need to use the sirens."

Norma Dorion wishes more emergency officials felt that way.

"Believe me, if you lived as close to the fire department as we do and hear the siren going off at all hours of the day and night, you would want a better system also," she said.