Cold Spring Siren Lures Renewed Controversy

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

The Cold Spring fire siren blasted its way back into controversy Tuesday when 31 residents urged the Village Board to replace its twice-a-day shriek with a monthly growl — or silence it entirely.

Located on Cedar Street near Main Street, the siren has sounded daily for decades at 12 and 6 p.m. to test its fitness for summoning fire and ambulance corps members to duty. But some who live nearby contend that with emergency service volunteers carrying pagers and mobile phones, the alarm’s purpose is dubious. Several raised objections in November, to little avail. Trying anew this week, a group proposed alternatives, such as testing the siren only once a month with a subdued rumble or “growl” tone instead of the abrasive, 15-seconds scream.

“What is the real function?” asked Cedar Street resident Cindy Goldberg. “For us, it doesn’t make sense.”

“Why it’s tested twice a day is a question no one has answered,” Maple Terrace resident Corinne Giunta added.

Mayor Seth Gallagher replied that “a back-up if the pager system doesn’t work.” Last January, he and then-Trustee Lynn Miller tried to limit the tests to once daily, but were outvoted 3-2 by colleagues on the Village Board who wanted to keep the twice-daily regimen. The fire department has stood firmly behind the siren as well. “Let it be known that by unanimous vote that it is the resolve of the membership of the Cold Spring Fire Company that the fire siren is an essential piece of equipment and serves as a back-up to our primary alert system,” Fire Company President Michael Bowman wrote to the Village Board in January. At the time, the siren was suffering one of its periodic bouts of voice failure and the firefighters wanted it fixed.

The village complied and residents say the din is consequently worse than ever. “It’s much louder, longer and more piercing now,” Parrott Street resident Theresa Corcoran observed. “The siren finally is working the way it’s designed to,” Trustee J. Ralph Falloon, a former Cold Spring fire chief, explained. “The decibel level I do not believe is adjustable. What is adjustable is the timing.” He said the village government moved the siren to its current perch from Academy and Main Streets several years ago, without consulting the CSFC. “The fire company fought that move,” he said. Locust Ridge resident Kathleen Foley termed it “unconscionable” for anyone to move the siren without first getting input from residents near its new address.

Reportedly dating back to 1926 in some incarnation, the siren once called workers to lunch and announced evening quitting time, along with warning firefighters and villagers of danger. “It is just an old Cold Spring thing,” Trustee Bruce Campbell recalled. “I live right under it. It doesn’t bother me,” Bowman informed the residents. “I have people come up to me all the time and say they love it.”

“We feel we’re paying too great a price for the nostalgia for a few,” Foley said, noting that the neighborhood also bears the brunt of heavy school bus and ambulance traffic. “You should not have moved into that house,” Bowman replied. “It just seems we had this discussion months ago,” he told the board. However, he acknowledged that a reduced-decibel”growl” test of the siren would work.

 In a petition, Foley, Giunta, Goldberg, and 27 others asked the village board to accord them “the same courtesy “¦ offered to the fire company and include us in all discussions regarding the sounding of the fire alarm” and to “use data and facts as a basis for all decisions regarding the fire siren,” and avoid subjectivity “based on assumptions.” Should keeping the alarm in fact prove necessary, they asked the board to consider what compromise might “satisfy fire company needs” while resolving residents’ concerns.

Giunta also presented a separate statement in which she suggested the village have the siren’s noise-level tested and that board members visit the neighborhood at 12 noon or 6 p.m. to experience the siren’s impact directly.  Pointing out that “the siren was out of order for several months,” she wondered “if it was not necessary then, why is it necessary now?”

“Let’s find out what the decibel level is,” Gallagher concurred, likewise agreeing that board members should listen to the siren on site. Having already heard it, Trustee Campbell attested to its loudness. “I really don’t have any problems whatsoever going to once a month” testing, he said. Trustee Airinhos Serradas also expressed sympathy and suggested the residents and fire company need “to cohabitate. There’s no reason why we can’t.” The Village Board opted to revisit the issue Aug. 17, allowing fire fighters time to react again.

The disgruntled residents emphasized that they admire the fire company itself. “We love you guys,” Giunta told Bowman and Fire Chief Chris Tobin in a typical comment. “This is not about the fire company. This is strictly about noise pollution.”


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23 thoughts on “Cold Spring Siren Lures Renewed Controversy

  1. I smile, whether it be the sound of the Baptist Church’s music playing or the Cold Spring fire whistle a blowin’. It may be nothing more than a tradition, but I welcome it everyday at noon and six p.m.

  2. To the people who have lived here for a short time a bit of history. Early citizens and foundry workers lived and ran their business’in tune with the siren. Forty years ago the siren called only at 6pm, thank goodness,as the kids all knew it was time to be home for supper [pre cell phones].The siren’s history is well known to caring residents,who on hearing it’s cry knew one of their neighbors was in need. If possible they responded along with the fire co. This has always been a benevolent community with a spirit to pull together. Respectful of the history and those who cherished this place before us. I am sure when other systems fail, and you have a fire ,or need an ambulance, you’ll be glad to hear that siren loud and clear.

  3. I think it would be wise to try out the “growl test”. The siren is very loud, and I am one of those who find the twice-daily full-volume tests very annoying. That said, I agree that having a functioning high-decibel outdoor alarm is useful when there is an emergency. It would be great if the siren could successfully be growl-tested and still blast away at full volume in emergencies. I think and hope that that might satisfy everyone.

  4. Every time that siren goes off, it reminds the residents of Cold Spring who aren’t firefighters or EMS that there are neighbors who volunteer to stand at the ready, to risk their own safety, to keep our community secure.

    It reminds these residents that in a small village, safety from fire and accidents is a communal enterprise, and that if it doesn’t come from the efforts of local volunteers, it won’t come at all.

    Thinking about it this way, it occurs to me that sounding the siren twice a day might not be often enough.

  5. Luv the siren and love the cheezy baptist bells not to mention west point morning and evening cannon salute. and the train whistles What Would Cold Spring be without these timeless keepers of time! (mmmmmm sounds like a blues song commin up)
    BTW they were here before I moved here in 83 i hope there still here when i am 103

  6. The immediate issue is not the siren. It is the testing. I have found that those who live 2 blocks or more away from Cedar Street have no problem with the siren testing. The reason is that the sound falls off dramatically and can barely be heard at the fire station and not at all in the lower village. I hope that a happy solution can be reached on this issue. Might I add that the siren test at 6pm overrides the lovely bells from the Baptist Church.

  7. I thoroughly enjoy the church bells and music and half the time I do not remember hearing the siren as I have become so accustomed to it. When I do hear it I pray to God that everyone is safe and ok.

  8. I write with tremendous respect for the fire company and all Springers who have come before me. This is NOT an Old Springer v. New Springer issue. Among the signatories of our petition are “lifers” and folks who’ve lived here for 25-years plus, as well as recent arrivals. This is a NEIGHBORHOOD issue that impacts families regardless of their tenure. The siren was moved dangerously close to our houses without public comment or consent. By admission of the Trustees themselves, it is not engineered for proper, safe operation in its current location nor has its impact on neighboring households been assessed. We simply want to protect our families, and particularly our children, from the ear-damaging blasts which point directly at our houses. Have a look at the siren — it’s on a telephone poll at the Corner of Main and Cedar, right outside the town hall. It blasts directly into the windows of homes on Maple Terrace, Main, Cedar and Locust Ridge. Stand there when it sounds. You’ll understand what we mean. Stand in our homes–we’ll welcome you. Then stand in the lower village at noon and six and you may not even hear the alarm. The location and blast volume does not serve the need described. We simply want to find a solution that makes the alarm, or an alternative technology, more livable for the surrounding households and which meets the safety goals of the fire company. We feel confident that a compromise exists. We think that exploring new technologies is wise. And surely we can find another audible way to honor the rich traditions of this fantastic village and community, to which we are all solidly committed.

  9. I was born and raised in Cold Spring, and now I have the privilege of raising my children in this wonderful village. When I was growing up we always knew when it was time to go home for lunch and dinner by the blowing of that “siren”, and by the way the old location of the siren was only a little more then a block from my home. It also was the time when my father would run out of the house whatever time day or night to answer the fire alarm along with the many other volunteers that did the same. I am not going to get into the necessity of the siren here, because the Fire Company is more then capable in handling that at the meeting with the village trustees when that meeting date is set. I am just very curious as to why it must be brought up again when it was only voted on a few months ago to leave it like it is. It just amazes me how the many wonderful things that attract people to this village are the same things that they try to change once they move here.

  10. It is funny, I have to admit, that the former location of the siren was right outside the old mayor’s window, and then some time during his tenure it was moved to a location outside somebody else’s window. I support the siren wholeheartedly, but this coincidence is probably the best proof that it is really annoying when you’re close to it.

  11. It seems to me that there are two issues: One is the sound vs. no sound or less sound issue and the other is the location. I wasn’t aware that the fire siren had been moved from some other original location without community consent. If this is true, perhaps it can be moved back. Regarding the sound, I remember visiting my grandparents little town in Wisconsin weekly and hearing what they called “The noon whistle”. They also had a “5:00 whistle”. As it was explained to me, it was meant as a call to workers and their families that it was time to go to lunch or end their workday. If someone was in the garden, they knew to come in. I thought of it as a community binding agent -something we didn’t have in the suburbs. When we moved to Cold Spring, I appreciated it as much — as something uniquely “Village” to remind us of where we live and who lives among us amidst many of our commuting, computing lives.
    The church bells, catty-corner (a Midwest term) from us, are something I’ve had to learn from. Imagine as many as 80 loud tolls, spaced a little irregularly at about 3 sec intervals. I knew they were connected with funerals, as they would be accompanied by a hearse, sometimes bagpipes, and the streets would be lined with waiting cars; but I had no idea of why the arbitrary number. Perhaps it was the age of the person deceased. Perhaps it’s the length of time that it takes to empty the church. I grew up adjacent to a church and we never had anything like this.
    I could find the bells and their slight irregularity and the arbitrary length of time that they went on disturbing. But instead I use the bells as a moment of reflection. They are a reminder that I live in a community with others and that today there is one fewer member.
    I love Cold Spring because it is a village and because I can find community with other villagers with other ideas and beliefs — not just on social websites with like-minded people, but with my neighbors and out on the street.

    By the way, I found a sweet story about a town that re-instated it’s noon whistle tradition after many years. (Don’t have your volume all the way up!)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddj1cHKtcE0

  12. We have the benefit now, in 2010, of understanding the damage that excessive noise can do to our hearing. As a “caring resident” who is respectful of the long and colorful history of the Village, I hope that all residents will be compassionate toward those who live within the shadow of the siren. As explained by Trustee Falloon, recent repairs to the siren have restored it to full voice. Twice daily testing at the current volume is distressing to our children, upsetting to many and seemingly unnecessary. I hope that the trustees, Fire Company and local residents can find a compromise that will benefit us all.

  13. There really isn’t any rational reason to keep the full volume twice a day test blasts blaring and regularly waking up nearby neighbors’ sleeping infants. Nobody, least of all our 21st century fire department, should have a problem with less frequent low volume growl testing of what’s already a back-up system. I can barely hear the siren from my home lower down in the village, but this just seems like a matter of simple courtesy for the families living right near the siren who are asking for consideration. Personally, I prefer the church bells as a village timekeeper anyway.

  14. Having spent the majority of my 33 years living here in the Village of Cold Spring, and the last twelve years or so living about 100 yards from the siren (it is actually just about level with my bedroom window) – which I guess makes me an “effected resident” – I was never approached to sign any type of petition, nor was any member of my family. In fact I wasn’t aware of any petition circulating until I was contacted by a few members of the community who expressed regrets upon signing the petition, because it wasn’t thoroughly explained to them.

    The letter attached to the petition does not only concern the fire siren, or twelve and noon soundings. As it was explained to me after the August 3rd meeting of the Village of Cold Spring Trustees, by Ms. Foley herself, this petition is more about “a clustering of community services around the Cedar Street corridor.” This statement stems from the fact that her letter(s) to the Village Board have not only cited the fire siren as a “nuisance” but also states “the neighborhood most directly impacted by the fire alarm bears a disproportionate burden of the village’s public services. Those living on Cedar Street, Locust Ridge and Mountain Ave endure multiple impacts in addition to the fire alarm: the Indian Point Alarm, the sirens of the Ambulance Corps, four daily runs of school buses as they enter and leave Haldane grounds, and the regular coming and going of the Office of the Aging vans.” (Kathleen E. Foley 25 January 2010, letter to Seth Gallagher).

    Obviously the fire siren is but one of the “nuisances” Ms. Foley has on her agenda. I don’t understand what impact the Office of the Aging vans have on the Cedar Street community – in my opinion they serve a vital service to our aging population, providing transportation and meals to our elders. The school buses that run routes through those streets have been doing so since the school was relocated to it’s current location in the mid-1930s. The ambulance corps has been in it’s present location since the 1980s. And the fire siren was moved to it’s present location about twelve years ago, and was located farther down Main Street previously, and atop the original fire house (now the Municipal Bldg) previous to that (dating to around 1926). I guess what i am getting at is that these were all preexisting conditions to Ms. Foley’s relocation to the Village of Cold Spring and that it seems that anything can be deemed a nuisance depending upon one’s personal opinion. I mean I hear people complaining all weekend about motorcycles, outdoor music, and a host of other things… maybe we should look into that from Ms. Foley’s urban planning perspective?

    I personally like the Siren. I like small town life, and I think there is something to be said for small town traditions. It is why I have chosen to return to my hometown and embrace my community (not worry about how I can change it). I have lived much of my life beneath the twelve o’clock whistle, and the only impact that is has had on me, for better or for worse, is that it inspired me to join the Cold Spring Fire Company and give my time and energy toward helping the community – not critiquing it.

  15. The rich history and traditions of this town make it a charming and unique place to call home. But it is really the community here–the smiles of my neighbors, new and old, even the friendliness of fellow residents who I don’t even know—that I love about this place. Among these folks, the fire department has always gone out of their way to nurture the kids in this town. They run an amazing camp, and they are always there on main street–welcoming kids passing by with coloring books and a chance to sit up in the truck cab. I can hardly believe that these same guys/gals wouldn’t work hard to find a compromise that will keep the alerting chain safe for all, but will help out the kids and their families that live near the siren. The kids closest to the blast literally scream and cry when it goes off. I can only faintly hear the siren at my house, but even so I don’t wish to enjoy any town tradition on the backs of my neighbors further up in the village.

  16. Given the level of support for the siren testing and Cold Spring’s rich traditions, why not relocate the siren to a more central location within the village to ensure that many more residents can enjoy the full force of the twice daily testing? It’s a shame that residents in the lower village are missing out. The firehouse seems like a good option, or perhaps a couple of blocks further down Main St. Really, who could object to that??

  17. I have to say I have worries about a kid who cries every time the siren goes off, never quite learning that twice a day, every day, the exact same thing will happen the exact same way.

    I also think it would be best to talk in facts, since the most compelling complaint here is that there is a health risk from the volume of the siren. Will it, or will it not, cause harm to people’s ears? How many decibels is it when it reaches various residences? Is this *safe*, or merely annoying to some people? Does the duration of the sound play into its potential to cause harm? In sum: is it safe to operate the siren at its present volume?

    If the siren is not safe and is making people lose their hearing, then somebody should sue the local government for hurting people. If it is safe, then we are dealing with the competing preferences of a public safety agency, citizens who support its siren policy, and citizens who are against it. This is the realm of discussion and compromise in local government. Tradition counts for something, and if we lose sight of that, then we have lost sight of something important in our village.

    As an aside, this is a great discussion and I’d like to thank P-town.info for providing this forum and covering this issue. It’s such a breath of fresh air from the one-sided dogma and editorialism of the PCNR.

  18. Steven, the babies and children cry because the siren hurts their ears. That it sounds at predictable times every day is irrelevant.

    The siren must be evaluated for its impact on neighboring residents, as such an assessment has never been made, particularly at its current location. Sirens can and do cause hearing loss. Alternate technologies and compromises should be explored as necessary. The firefighters who care so much about our community will surely be willing to work out a solution that will be not only effective in alerting emergency personnel, but also safe for residents.

  19. I’m curious, have they increased the volume of the siren, since it was moved? If they have, then perhaps they could change it back. If it isn’t any louder then before, why all of sudden are there complaints? Our past Mayor has lived in that house, for as long as I can remember. Therefore, the suggestion that he had something to do with the relocation, seems ridiculous to me. I know of many babies who grew up UNDER the siren’s old location, including myself. Perhaps they should just return the siren back to where it had been. Nobody complained then and anyone who has recently bought homes there, were well aware of the very brief sound that erupts from it.

  20. I would like to respond to the comment regarding “sudden” complaints about the siren. I personally have been complaining about the siren testing since Nov. 2009. Other residents have been communicating over the years with board members as well. And the siren is louder since the recent repair.

    Our request is so simple – please reduce the number of tests. There is a lot of evidence in other communities that supports reduced testing. As for moving the siren, I am in support of that.

  21. We suffered from the sound of the siren before it was moved to its current location, so I truly empathize with the neighbors who now hear it in their homes. I’d also like to add that when we bought our house, we had no idea a siren went off in town at noon and six, nor that it was a block from our house. Each time we visited the house prior to purchase it was a different time of day and our realtor certainly did not disclose the siren’s existence or location to us! So the first time we heard it go off in the dead of night we were really shocked. When my mother visited us and heard it at night she could not go back to sleep, the siren brought back painfully vivid memories of her childhood in Europe during WWII, running to bomb shelters when the air raid sirens went off. I respect the traditions in this town, but there has to be room for compromise. I deeply admire our fire department (who were there when we needed them!) but again, there has to be room for compromise. I’m glad the issue is being debated and I’m hopeful our town can come to an agreement everyone can live with.
    Because we all want to live here, together, as neighbors!

  22. From my perspective we have the responsibility to protect our fellow residents from harm. That is a commitment that our volunteer firefighters live every day. That responsibility extends to the people who live under / near the siren.

    It seems reasonable to formally measure the volume of the siren. The fact this has never been done seems strange. It is my understanding that a decibel meter isn’t a tremendously expensive piece of equipment. If cost is the issue then surely the residents can take up a collection so our village can have such a meter.

    We are certainly not the only community who is facing this issue so how are other villages handling this?

    I am confident that there is a middle ground, however characterizing this issue as a pro or con on the issue of tradition seems unproductive and frankly irrelevant. This is a public health issue.

    There are plenty of traditions that as a culture we have made compromises on in order to protect the health and well-being of the community.

  23. I live in the North Highlands Fire District, and I hear their alarm blow everyday at 6:00 pm. Each day as it goes off, I quickly look at my clock to make sure it’s the 6 o’clock whistle, and not a fire or an accident.

    I used to live on Church Street right down from the fire house, and whenever there was a fire, and the alarms went off in the middle of the night, I thanked God that there were people in our community that would risk their lives for us – my father and brother included.

    I believe that testing the alarms daily is not just a tradition but a necessity. I, for one, would not want to see if they worked when a house is engulfed in flames.

    This is Cold Spring – This is Philipstown – This is our tradition.