Siren sounds message for more talks

Fire sirens again are a hot topic in Hollidaysburg, as they were in 2017 when the borough’s Phoenix Volunteer Fire Department announced plans to replace its two sirens that had been out of service for — at that time — about eight years.

Noise is the issue — and whether new technology has extinguished the necessity of what many residents consider to be an antiquated alert system.

As the situation stands currently, brainstorming, communication and cooperation are needed in the weeks ahead by leaders of the fire department, borough officials and residents. Also needed is a meeting of the minds as to what is most important for the community.

On Aug. 29, only one new siren was put in service to replace the two that had been inoperable for about a decade — this one installed at the top of the Phoenix Fire Station.

But during the weeks since the Aug. 29 siren installation, complaints have been increasing about its being what’s been described as obnoxiously loud. Another growing criticism has been about the siren being activated much more frequently than the rate of about 20 times a year that had been estimated during discussions in 2017.

Rather than 20 times a year, the new siren was activated about 20 times in September and, up to the borough council’s Oct. 10 meeting, had been activated five times this month.

In 2017, borough residents were told that, once installed, the new siren system only would be sounded for a fire, mass-casualty accident or widespread emergency. However, Blair County 911 has indicated that the Hollidaysburg siren is activated for borough calls as well as for adjacent areas that the department covers.

In addition, the siren is activated for assistance to fire companies with which the Hollidaysburg department has mutual-aid agreements.

Those mutual-aid departments respond when Phoenix needs assistance.

“This is a standardized protocol for all county fire companies … very few volunteer fire companies are on their own, without assisting departments,” according to Blair County 911 coordinator Mark Taylor.

All involved in the Hollidaysburg issue — and that means the entire community — need to consider all of the alternatives that are before them, and no one should downplay the importance of any of them.

One alternative: In lieu of having the siren operational, are fire department and/or borough coffers healthy enough to provide the money needed for state-of-the-art individual-alert devices for all of the department’s firefighters?

Another alternative: Should Hollidaysburg firefighters end their mutual-aid agreements so the borough’s local siren can be activated less? Residents need to acknowledge that would work both ways; other current mutual-aid departments could ignore emergencies in Hollidaysburg, perhaps heightening the risks to Hollidaysburg structures and residents’ lives.

A third alternative: Should Hollidaysburg firefighters have a flawed alert system for the department’s service area over the borough lines than what it has for within the borough’s borders?

All interests need to weigh everything that’s at stake, not just the noise.

All interests will have to compromise in order for the fire department to have the alert/response system that it needs to meet expectations.

In the end, quiet might or might not be best for Hollidaysburg. That’s for discussion, going forward, to ascertain.