Fire siren, response times focus of recent Council meeting

Terry RogersGovernment, Headlines, Milford Headline Story

Decibel levels of current single fire siren. The orange area is up to 90 decibels, equivalent to that of a jackhammer or night club.

Proposed decibel levels of proposed addition of three fire sirens and relocation of the downtown siren

Carlisle Fire Company recently provided information to Milford City Council regarding the need for the fire siren as well as additional details on response times in the district. The company has ramped up recruitment, resulting in five new members and reactivation of several others who had been inactive. The company is also looking into funding to offer family medical plans as well as a pension plan after losing one paid EMT when the company could not offer those benefits.

“We currently pay 100 percent for medical, but just for the employee,” Tor Hazzard, President of the company, said. “There’s no current retirement or pension package. Our employee and finance committee, along with our Board of Directors is investigating ways to improve that.”

Hazzard explained that increased call volume is overwhelming their EMS staff. In 2022, the company responded to over 4,000 EMS calls and many of these were to specific locations in the city, including Milford Center, Milford Place, Delaware Veteran’s Home and Milford Wellness Village which all have long-term care facilities. Hazzard stated that EMS staff responds to three to four calls per shift to one or more of these locations. In addition, fire and accident calls have increased with 118 alarms in 2023 already. He also informed council that 40 percent of the alarms were due to automatic fire alarms, culinary mishaps and faulty smoke or heat detectors.

“Since 1802, the Carlisle Fire Company continues to protect and serve the citizens of Milford and surrounding communities,” Hazzard said. “The public has been misinformed for too long due to ineffective news and social media platforms. We feel the need for increased public education related to the volunteer fire service. The Carlisle Fire Company and surrounding companies provide less expensive alternatives to a paid fire company.”

Chief Shawn Hinton suggested that one area where the public was misinformed was the need for the fire siren. He pointed out that the siren was there to alert members that there was an emergency in the district but was also a way to alert the public that volunteers would be traveling through town at higher rates of speed in order to get to the fire station. He also explained that the fire siren does not go off for every call and that of the 780 calls the company ran in 2022, about 100 of them did not require the fire siren to sound.

“The fire siren is not only for fire alarm calls, but also for natural disasters and to alert the citizens here in Milford,” Hinton said. “As you all know through the years, we’ve had an increase of natural disasters whether or not it’s been a tornado warning or actual tornadoes that touched down within the area.”

Hinton also stated that since the company is fully volunteer, those responding to the fire station need to have a clear path when they are heading in that direction.

“The volunteers are responding with their hazard lights on and we’re in a hurry,” Hinton said. “We’re responding to get to the firehouse to get our fire gear on and get on the fire trucks. The fire trucks don’t respond without us. So, when that siren blows, it also means citizens need to give us the right-of-way. WE understand that yes, it blows, and it blows and it blows. But remember that every time it blows, we are leaving our dinner tables. We are leaving our homes, some of us are leaving our full time jobs in service to the citizens of Milford, so what council is asking is that the city work with the fire department. The fire department would like to maintain control over that siren.”

Councilman Todd Culotta asked about the 40 percent of calls that were considered false alarms, wondering if there was any type of fine for those residences or businesses.

“When I lived in Northern Virginia, if your fire alarm went off first time they came out and it was fine,” Councilman Culotta said. “The second time was a $50 charge, the third was a $100 charge, fourth time it was a $500 charge. So the idea was to manage your alarm, pay attention to it. Do we have anything like that?”

According to Hinton, Carlisle did not fine people for false alarms but after the third one, it was submitted to the fire department who then fined the business or homeowner. Councilman Jason James wanted to be clear that council had always been in support of the fire company.

“There always seem to be an air of misconception because I think clarity and education is important,” Councilman James said. “There has never been even a thought of council being in opposition or adversarial to Carlisle Fire Department. That never existed but that picture seems to always want to be painted. That’s not good. Because that’s misleading to the public that there is a riff here. That is not true. Council has always been supportive.”

Councilman James went on to talk about the miscommunication about the fire siren.

“Is the miseducation for council or is it with the public?” Councilman James asked. “Because it seems to me what I hear from the public is that it is not the fact the siren is sounding but where it is an the volume. The question comes about, at least from this councilperson, can it even be heard in greater distances from Milford base don where it is? I don’t hear it so it doesn’t even serve the purpose, the intended purpose you have delineated very well. If you’re going to serve its purpose, having the fire alarm where it is, that’s not getting done, it’s not working at all.”

In addition to the fire siren, Councilman James applauded the fire company for what they do and reminded council that they have a responsibility for fire protection for the citizens. Councilman Andy Fulton agreed with Councilman James, pointing out that people are more worried that the siren could not be heard in some areas but that it was really loud downtown..

“People do recognize it’s to alert the publiSet featured imagec of a situation where cars are going to be coming at them with their headlights flashing and hazards going trying to get to the firehouse, most are perfectly aware of that,” Councilman Fulton said. “I was very impressed by what a lot of people were saying. The only complaints I heard was how loud it was closest to the siren. That’s all I heard. I think if we can expand the range without increasing the volume, I think we’ll do a good service and that would give you more coverage. And, actually, I know that not all of your member work right downtown. I think what we want to go to provides that coverage and will alert people at all corners of the town. I think that’s a much better option than just having one downtown that blares really loud.”

Councilman Culotta agreed with both Councilman James and Fulton.

“If you take everybody’s comments and put them together, there are people that feel like we don’t need it at all right? And there are people that feel the need of it, but it’s too loud. And I think that’s what we’re talking about right now,” Councilman Culotta said. “I did a test to myself. I live two houses over from here. And with my windows closed, it’s 50 decibels and with a windows open it’s about 90-95. So that’s relatively loud particularly in the middle of night. However, the argument for me is not decibels. The argument is location and proximity. And I think what our plan is to put them closer to the corners of the city so to speak, is a good one and bringing that volume down, that’s reasonable which is what it used to be when they sounded the fire alarm.”

Councilman Culotta recalled that when he was growing up in Milford, there were several sirens in town and some were still active when he returned to the city in 2015.

“One was out by Dairy Queen, one down by Marshall Street and why we ever as a city got lazy and let them all fall apart and then rely on one, that’s the city’s fault,” Councilman Culotta said. “And I think this is where we can make it the way it was. It’s effective for everybody. So, to Councilman James’s point, if it’s this loud for me here, and he, who lives in this city can barely hear it or not hear it at all, what about the areas outside of the city that you’re responsible for? I mean, you cover more than just the City of Milford. So, to me, putting the sirens in more locations is ideal. I hope that’s a happy medium working with you.”

Hazzard explained that Councilman James was correct and that the sirens were one area where public information was critical. His concern was that one of the locations proposed by the city, by the Elks Lodge Road substation, was directly across the street from a home for handicapped and mentally disabled persons as well as very close to the new hospital. He also pointed out that the fire siren proposed near Shawnee Road and the one near the fire hall would put a siren directly in the backyard of someone who had never had a siren near their home before.

“If you think we are getting complaints right now with one siren, imagine the complaints from four,” Hazzard said. “Again, we need the fire siren. We want to alert the community. We want the community to be aware we are coming. We want the community to give us the right of way so we can get our responders to the firehouse. We want that to happen. We’re not in disagreement with that. But the education as far as the public is that those four locations will be up to 90 decibels and we want to be sure the community is okay with where these sirens will be placed.”

Councilwoman Katrina Wilson stated that she had lived in Milford her entire life and when the question came up about the siren, her first reaction was to question why it was such a problem.

“I didn’t quite understand it, but I don’t live where you live downtown,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “Now, it’s not that loud at my house, but I do appreciate hearing it and being aware of the alert. I am sorry but it makes me automatically say a prayer that no one’s life is in jeopardy. So, whether it be an accident or fire or whatever, I appreciate it and relocating it, if we have to do that, we collaborate with you guys. I want the fire department to keep control of the sirens.”

Councilman Mike Boyle asked who owned the sirens and Hinton stated that they were currently owned by the city who also maintained them.

“This is 100 year old technology,” Councilman Boyle said. “Why are we still fussing with fire sirens when we have technology that instantly notifies firefighters and EMS. We have technology with automobiles with flashing lights that can better alert drivers on the road. I know when I am on the road or at home, I never hear that siren. And I just wonder if it is like so many things today, apathy from a lot of the public that say “oh it’s that thing again” and it’s gone from the mind. A car with a flashing blue light on the dash along with the flashers is more effective than a siren.”

Councilman Fulton disagreed, stating that he believed most people knew exactly what the siren was for and Councilman Boyle stated that it was because Councilman Fulton heard it, but many do not, so if the sirens were to remain, there needed to be more of a public relations campaign with the public. Councilman Culotta felt that maintenance of the fire alarm should remain with the city as the fire company did not have the manpower to handle that type of responsibility. City Manager Mark Whitfield explained that city staff did not maintain the sirens but that they used a contractor to perform the maintenance, but that contractor has not been called in since he took the position as city manager.

“If I can just clarify one thing about communications and technology. We have pagers, cell phones with a mobile app, we have Pulse Point,” Hazzard said, holding his pager in his hand. “This pager doesn’t always go off. Pulse Point doesn’t always go off. The mobile or mobile communication doesn’t always go so NFPA standard recommends two forms of reliable communication, one of them being the fire siren.”

Hazzard also pointed out that the fire siren is not the only miscommunication occurring among the public in Milford when it comes to the fire company.

“It’s not only in reference to the fire sirens. The last three group settings I’ve been involved in here, there has been a member of the public always come up and wanted to know why our response rate is so low and why other departments are coming to the city and fight in our fires,” Hazzard said. “Why neighboring companies with their ambulances are coming to help us on all motor vehicle accidents that is confirmed or reported there being an injured occupant of that vehicle. They automatically get dispatched with us. The neighboring company closest gets dispatched with our rescue trucks. So, it’s a rescue assist. Ambulance calls, we currently have three ambulances we can only start at the moment. So those ambulances from other companies are used as a backup. The other day we ran 21 calls in 24 hours. That’s a call every hour. When we have a third, fourth, fifth or sixth emergency in our district, Kent Center knows and can dispatch the next company. So that’s why companies are coming into the district. I think the public needs to know that. And that’s where I think they’ve been misinformed or just based on social media and the news outlets out there.”

Hinton also explained that there were other factors that could delay response times and would require an additional company to be sent in for assistance.

“Well, every incident, every form of traffic, or construction jeopardizes our response. It’s hard right now to get the inner city people to volunteer, to knock on the door and accept an application, but then go forth with it to go to training,” Hinton said. “I will say that the city of Milford, we have some of the best firemen in the state. People want to come in and ride with us and come and work with us. So, we got people who are coming from the Shawnee Acres area or over by the Redner’s area.”

Hinton pointed out that there is currently major construction going on at the corner of Route 113 and 14 which sometimes leads to complete traffic jams.

“I live two blocks away from the firehouse and it takes me all of six minutes to get there. And that’s during the morning commute, the afternoon commute and the evening commute and we, on an average, on a working in fire, we get four minutes to respond and with traffic the way it is, there should be no way we make that response time, but we do,” Hinton said. “We make it but it’s just hard. We’re riding out of the station with very minimal staffing with four people on the apparatus. So, when you go look for those working in fires, those additional companies that come in, that’s for the citizens. That’s not because we can’t get out No, that’s for the citizens so we can get the correct response there to the residents to their emergency. Because again getting up from our dinner tables, we get up from our loved ones. We leave our sporting events, we leave all that to go to an emergency that can be wherever we are within the district. We encounter all types of traffic incidents and try to educate the public. Let them know that yes, that fire siren blowing is for the right of way so that we can get to the firehouse. This is definitely one of the many occasions in which we need to, of course work together collaborate together to get that education out there to the public.”

Councilman Boyle asked if the current fire station location was a problem and whether the company was considering a new location. Hazzard explained that they were looking at possible upgrades to the station but that they currently have a lot of members who lived in the southern section of Milford. With the Mispillion bridge now closed, this was adding to their response time as they had to drive through town, so they were discussing a possible substation in the future. Councilman Fulton pointed out that a substation could result in the company receiving and additional $64,000 in state funding as well. Mayor Archie Campbell asked Tony Chipola, Electric Supervisor, if he had an idea what moving the fire sirens would cost.

“We went out and got some estimates, but we don’t have implementation timelines right now,” Chipola said. “So, I guess we can do a little more on our end just to see what the lead times are for the material. I did ride along with one of the contractors the other day and it doesn’t seem like there’s too many delays in terms of equipment like we have on the electrical side. Luckily enough, we have our own electric utility and can get the poles and power there quickly.”

Councilman Brian Baer questioned again why the company did not use newer technologies in order to keep the community quieter. He also pointed out that council was provided information that many cities in Delaware did not have fire sirens, including Newark, Delaware City, Townsend and Fenwick Island.

“Yes, Councilman Baer, those cities up in New Castle are pretty much within a quarter mile of each other and most, if not all of them are paid departments so there is no need for a siren,” Hazzard said. “If you ride down Kirkwood Highway, I guarantee you will probably ride by six of those departments.”

Councilman Baer also pointed out that no fire company on the list they were provided had four sirens, including Rehoboth Beach and Georgetown. Councilman Fulton explained that those towns were significantly smaller than Milford. Hazzard stated that Dover was not listed and they had as many as 13 sirens. Whitfield pointed out that the four sirens, even at 90 decibels, would not impact as many homes as the one downtown did currently. Although there would be residences impacted, there were very few within the 90 decibel level.

“Last year at this time, we talked about staffing problems, personnel problems, and there was a whole kind of enthusiasm to have coordinated meetings to come to the conclusion. Now we’re talking about facility problems and sirens, and will probably leave here with a lot of enthusiasm,” Councilman Boyle said. “We got to get together and talk or it ain’t happening. We make these commitments to each other. We’re gonna do it, we’re gonna do it right. People, equipment, facilities, take years to build up a standard of what you need. We say we’re going to talk and then we don’t talk. We don’t know what your long term needs are. We need to somebody to explore this and come to a conclusion. We’ve got to work hand in glove to get this done. It is on us, the city, to provide services from Carlisle but, how’s it gonna provide the service? We’re not going in lockstep. We’re gonna be here next year, talking about who knows what, and still not having these problems other than just here, not sitting down and really addressing solutions and not just problems.”

Share this Post