Residents complain about fire siren in Pa. neighborhood

Friction over the sound of the alarm has been going on for 28 months

By Richard Gazarik
The Tribune-Review

HEMPFIELD, Pa. — A done deal has come undone, residents of the West Point neighborhood of Hempfield say.

An agreement to tone down an ear-shattering fire alarm has residents complaining again to township supervisors over a plan that would reduce the alarm's decibel level.

"They just buffaloed us from Day One," said Rich Janesko. "That thing blows for two minutes."

Friction over the sound of the alarm has been going on for 28 months.

Janesko and other West Point residents are expected to renew debate over the fire alarm tonight at a board of supervisors meeting.

Residents demand to know why supervisors reneged on a deal to force the department to reduce the alarm time to one minute, he said.

"We're going to ask the supervisors to do something for the people," Janesko said.

The siren blares so loudly that it rattles windows and nerves, residents say. A school bus stop at the siren's tower subjects waiting students to decibel levels of 102, he noted.

According to the National Institutes of Health, any noise over 85 decibels can cause hearing loss, which can be temporary or permanent.

The federal agency reports that about 26 million Americans suffer from high-frequency hearing loss caused by exposure to loud noise.

In 2008, Hempfield supervisors and the fire department reached an agreement to remove the old siren, which blared at a decibel level of 130.

Each year, Hempfield gives $15,000 to each of the dozen fire departments in the township. Supervisors withheld $5,000 from West Point's share and agreed to buy a new siren and pay for its relocation.

The new siren is a traditional fire siren rather than the disaster siren previously used. However, blasts from the new siren run longer than the old one.

Several West Point residents suffer from Lou Gehrig's disease, cancer or heart trouble, and the noise disrupts their sleep, Janesko said.

Sometimes the alarm sounds, but no volunteers turn out and a firetruck never leaves the station, he said.

Chairman John Silvis said the township agreed to purchase equipment to reduce the cycles at which the siren sounds, but the new gear wasn't compatible with the siren.

"We'll continue to review it and work with them and try to pacify them," Silvis said.

Supervisor Bob Davidson, who lives in West Point, said he will press for a final resolution of the issue.

"I'm going to push it," said Davidson. "The fire alarm goes off needlessly."

Greg Saunders, president of the Hempfield Fire Chiefs Association, said the township code specifically exempts fire sirens from the noise code so the supervisors cannot cite the department for a violation.

"The right thing to do is to give back the money they took from the fire department, apologize and move on," Saunders said.

Township Manager Kurt Ferguson said fire alarms are an exception under the code, but additional equipment may have to be purchased to reduce the length and decibel level of the alarm in West Point.

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