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| Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Hayden Duke | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. | Brooke Winn |


Advertise on the Tentacle

May 30, 2011

One man's annoyance is another's salvation

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Pick a nuisance that generates neighborhood complaints: noise from a highway; noise from a siren; lights from a ball field; traffic from an industrial site; or odors from a farm. What’s your poison?


All of these things, taken on their own, would create a negative impact on quality of life. The principal question that must be asked is this: Did the nuisance exist before the homeowner, or was the homeowner in place before the nuisance?


With few exceptions, most of these complaints come from relatively new residents. They conclude that the perfect home they've chosen turns out to be not-so-perfect when viewed in light of the nuisance, and they follow a now-familiar path of criticism, complaint and advocacy to eliminate their particular nuisance.


Take the siren noise complaint, for instance. A local volunteer fire company employs an audible siren as a means of alerting volunteers to a call. For lifelong residents, a number of whom also happen to serve as volunteer firefighters, the call of the siren is their beacon to action, a not-so-subtle reminder to drop the lawnmower, put down their fork, or turn off the ball game and rush to the station house.


Technology will continue to change the face of emergency response. In the 1800's a loud clanging bell beckoned the firemen. Since the 1900's, the audible siren did the duty, initially with a hand crank and later with electricity.


As the nature of handheld digital communications evolves, an increasing number of volunteer firefighters rely on text message and cell phone alerts to respond to calls. Unfortunately, not all volunteers have the wherewithal to purchase and maintain these devices.


Similarly, most local volunteer companies request that on-call or duty staff stay in the station during their volunteer shift. That seems like the answer; if you already have your people in the station, you don't need an audible siren to get them there.


If emergencies occurred consecutively and never overlapped, this might be another solution to the siren dilemma. Unfortunately, they don't.


Another popular – but flawed – anti-siren argument is that most places now have career firefighters, shift workers who have to be on hand during their shifts. That might be true in larger urban settings, where career personnel staff many stations on a regular basis.


In rural communities, volunteers remain the backbone of the service. Were it not for these people, one of two things would happen: houses and businesses would burn to the ground, or taxes would have to be dramatically increased to pay for the career staff to man the equipment.


The most telling aspect of the constant thrum of criticism over the use of audible sirens is that the people who do the complaining typically do not volunteer to serve their communities. It takes too much time; they work long hours or have long commutes.


The people who do volunteer also work long hours and commute to work. Not only does their volunteer commitment to their communities consume hundreds, if not thousands, of hours, they place their lives on the line each and every day just because they care about their community and their neighbors.


There is no doubt that an audible siren can be an annoyance to someone who lives nearby. That annoyance doubles when the siren goes off at night or early in the morning.


Here's the uncomfortable reality: When the buyer was house shopping, there should have been a few tell-tale indicators of potential trouble ahead. The first sign would have been the firehouse itself.


Firehouses house fire trucks. It's not like you expect to find library books in the firehouse. If you engage a single brain cell, you'd be forced to conclude that a call for emergency response will result in people rushing toward the firehouse, big red trucks making lots of noise, and many other forms of potential inconvenience.


That tall wooden pole with the huge plastic horn right next to the fire hall was also a sign. Logic suggests those things are there for reason, and that reason would principally involve making loud noise.


On this Memorial Day, a time when we pause to remember our military service veterans that gave their "last full measure of devotion" and made the ultimate sacrifice, we should also consider emergency services workers. Ten years ago, thousands died on U.S. soil in our nation's worst act of terrorism in history.


Of those, the largest number was firefighters.


When your community fire company sounds its siren this week, don't dwell on the annoyance of the loud wail. Don't get angry that little Johnny is awakened from a nap, or that the Orioles game play-by-play is interrupted for a few minutes.


Instead, be thankful that the sound you hear is the call to duty of a brave band of well-trained and equipped heroes who share a common bond and commitment to protect life and save property.


Annoying? Hell, yes, it's annoying. Guess what else is annoying. Complaints from people who fail to perform due diligence and then expect existing conditions, many of which were in place long before their arrival, to change simply because they demand it.


Yellow Cab
The Morning News Express with Bob Miller
The Covert Letter

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