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.”