NH fire station air horn silenced

It was installed in the early 1950s as the primary method of notifying the all-volunteer department of an emergency

By John Collins
The Lowell Sun

HUDSON, N.H. — No more blast from the past.

The air horn atop the Hudson fire station broke down a few months ago and will not be repaired, Chief Shawn Murray said.

"It comes down to the air tank (that feeds the air horn) in the attic has a hole in it, and it'd cost thousands of dollars to get it out of there and buy a new tank and new piping," explained Murray. "So, unfortunately, a longtime Fire Department tradition had to go by the wayside."

When the horn was installed in the early 1950s it had been the primary method of notifying the town's all-volunteer department of an emergency.

"Fire standards required that all departments have at least two ways of contacting people in an emergency," Murray said.

For almost 60 years the department tested the horn twice daily to make sure it was working — at 8 a.m and 8 p.m.

Eventually, full-time firefighters replaced the volunteers, and the use of pagers and cell phones rendered the air horn obsolete, the blowing of the "8 o'clock horn" morphed into a tradition.

"People would set their clocks and watches by it," said Murray.

You could hear it up to four miles away.

"You can imagine the noise level here at the station when it sounded," said Murray. "We never really measured the decibels. But people would literally shake in their boots from it, especially if they got caught off-guard."

The chief has received few queries about air horn's absence, he said.

"Some people miss it," said Murray. "But it doesn't do anything for us operationally, and in today's economy tradition loses to practicality. Fiscally, I can't justify fixing it."

While dropping by the fire station yesterday for one of his occasional visits, former 44-year volunteer Hudson Deputy Fire Chief Harry Chesnulevich, 82, overheard Deputy Chief Neal Carter discussing the air horn.

"I've been meaning to talk to you about that. What happened to it?" asked Chesnulevich.

"It's broken," Carter told him.

"Well, fix it," replied Chesnulevich.

Asked why he wished for the air horn's return, Chesnulevich couldn't quite explain.

"It was going on for so long. ... I guess people just grew fond of it," he said.

Not everyone.

Selectman Ben Nadeau, who lives with his family across the street from the fire station, said he approved of the chief's decision to discontinue the air horn.

"It never really bothered me, never affected us as a family. You live hear so long you just don't notice it," said Nadeau. "But it serves no real purpose for us, and the chief told me about the ridiculous cost of fixing it."

Similarly, the Nashua Fire Department discontinued its air-horn tradition about eight years ago, according to a dispatcher.

Perhaps the only community to spend money recently on repairing their fire station's air-horn was Jamestown, R.I. As one of the only towns left to have a 100-member, all-volunteer fire department, "You can't expect (volunteers) to bear the cost of text messaging," Assistant Chief Howard Tighe told the Jamestown Press last August.

Jamestown residents approved spending $36,000 to update their fire department's air horn in September, the newspaper reported.

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