Pa. fire company to turn off siren

Plan to discontinue use of siren and exclusively use pagers to contact members comes because of modern technology, budget woes

By Craig K. Paskoski
The Evening Sun

LITTLESTOWN, Pa. — Modern technology is rendering the traditional fire siren obsolete.

Littlestown's Alpha Fire Co. No. 1 will be the latest Adams County company to stop using its siren to call volunteers to emergencies.

Alpha plans to discontinue its use of the siren and exclusively use pagers to contact members, Alpha officials said.

"We don't feel a need for it anymore because we have pagers," Alpha Fire Chief Scott Small told the borough council during his annual report to board members at the Jan. 24 meeting.

Small said the company's decision was also a financial one.

"The cost of that (siren) is astronomical," he said.

According to Small, the company uses a motor to keep the siren operational 24 hours a day because three-phase electric, which would typically be used for the siren, was not extended to the East King Street station during renovation of the square several years ago.

Alpha officials estimated it cost the company between $6,000 and $10,000 annually to maintain the siren.

"We're not going to continue to pay that outrageous electric bill," Alpha company trustee Bill Sheely said.

Small offered to turn the siren over to the borough to use for emergency notifications. The siren also has been used over the years to alert residents of emergencies, such as tornado warnings and storms.

"That part of the siren is in the borough's hands," Small said.

Littlestown Police Chief Charles Kellar asked the fire company to hold off shutting down the siren until he had a chance to investigate other options for emergency alerts.

Alpha officials originally planned to discontinue using the siren Wednesday, but Sheely agreed to "work" with the borough and delay the deactivation of the siren until the chief can report back to council at its Feb. 14 meeting.

Kellar, who is also interim borough manager, said he would check what other municipalities do for emergency alerts and whether the siren could be moved to the borough building.

Public Works Director Tim Topper said the borough building could possibly handle the siren with some rewiring.

Adams County Emergency Services Director John Eline said his department encourages municipalities "to take over the responsibility to maintain the siren. The Emergency Services department has an encoder that sends a radio signal that sets off the sirens, alerting residents to emergencies."

Eline said Greenmount Fire Dept. in Freedom Township and United Hook and Ladder in New Oxford and Abbottstown no longer use their sirens.

Gettysburg and SAVES fire companies do not use their sirens overnight, Eline said.

Also during his report, Small said Alpha responded to 69 fire calls in the borough last year, a number equaling 30.5 percent of its total fire calls.

The ambulance company responded to 390 calls in the borough, or 49 percent of its overall responses.

"It just reiterates our earlier request for an increase in funding (from the borough)," Small said. "Hopefully, we can work for better monetary funding in the coming year."

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