This article is a press release from the Glen Rock Fire Department. Written by: Chief Jennings.
Several residents have asked why the Glen Rock Fire Department still uses sirens to alert its volunteers in this modern technological age.
The following is the Department’s response:
The Glen Rock Fire Department is an all volunteer department. This means that there are not personnel present at the fire station at all times. Members respond to the Station whenever an “event” occurs – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
For at least seventy years, Glen Rock has used sirens to summon the volunteers. Seven sirens are located throughout the Borough. The Borough also issues pagers to the volunteers as an additional method of notification. Both the sirens and the pagers are activated by the Central Dispatch located in Ridgewood.
Sirens are activated depending on the nature of the emergency and the time of its occurrence. For example, during daytime hours, there are more fire calls but fewer volunteer firefighters available to respond. Therefore, the sirens sound between 7:00 AM and 11:00 PM for all alarms. When life safety is involved (e.g., a car accident or “working” fire) sirens sound no matter the day or the hour. The sirens are not activated for standard alarms between 11:00 PM and 7:00 AM. This eliminates a large number of sirens overnight because the most frequent fire emergencies are for automatically generated fire alarms (e.g., : smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, or water flow alarm from a business.]
Technical issues with Pagers and Cell Phones
Pagers suffered from both operational and human errors. Over the years, there has been recalls of the pagers by the manufacturer. There are also dead spots in town where the pagers do not consistently work. Pagers sometimes need repair and moreover, a volunteer simply might forget to turn the pager on, or charge it. Or, the volunteer might not carry the pager with him or her at all times.
Many volunteers are also alerted via text message of fire calls. Like pagers however, cell phones have their limitations. The dispatcher may forget to send the text message alert. In addition, cell phone coverage may delay the receipt of the text message. Also, similar to pagers, the text message alert is dependent on the volunteer having his or her cell phone nearby at all times and the battery being charged.
Residents also cited the Boroughs reverse 911 system as a method to notify the volunteers. However, this system is not a practical alternative as it requires the creation of a specific message every time it is utilized (i.e., the messages are not automated which would cause delay in transmission to members).
Moreover, residents have noted that a number of jurisdictions within Bergen County have stopped using sirens. Generally, departments that have eliminated the use of sirens to alert members are either paid departments that are fully staffed at all times or are departments with such significant membership
levels that they have opted to take on the risk that members may miss a call due to any technical or other issues by relying solely on pagers and/or cell phones. As noted above, Glen Rock does not have a paid Fire Department (which of course would require significant financial investment by taxpayers to staff) nor does it have the membership levels to afford any member not being made aware by all means possible of a potential emergency.
State and federal noise standards are not applicable to fire sirens. Emergency sirens are exempt from New Jersey’s EPA sound level standards, and federal law does not establish any standards for how much noise may be emitted from sirens. Moreover, the Borough’s sirens were consistent with the Federal Emergency Management Act, which addresses the location of sirens and suggests a limit of 123 decibels for sirens adjoining residential structures. Specifically, N.J.S.A. 13:1G-3(d), expressly permits municipalities to sound certain types of alarms. In addition, N.J.S.A. 13:1G-4.2., establishes specific noise standards and explicitly exempts fire sirens from those standards.
The sounding of sirens helps ensure that the Fire Department can promptly respond to an emergency. In most any emergency, timing is a critical factor for both the life safety of any potential victims as well as the firefighters themselves. Most members of the Fire Department can relay numerous examples of instances where for whatever reason, they were not alerted to a fire call by pager or text, but they did hear the sirens sound and as such responded to the station. In the fire service, we have seen time and again the the tenor of an incident can change very quickly. An activated smoke detector can turn into a working house fire in minutes. Accordingly, the use of all means at the Borough’s disposal to ensure that all available members respond to any potential emergency as promptly and safely as possible is critical to protecting the lives and property of the citizens of Glen Rock.
Finally, the sirens also serve to alert drivers in the area that there may be emergency responders on the road. Moreover, the sirens alert the person who requests assistance that help is on the way. The sirens also help prevent accidents involving fire trucks and the children on their way to and from schools located in the borough.
In conclusion, the Fire Department believes that the sounding of the sirens is essential to public safety and that solely relying on pagers and/or cell phones would do a disservice to the Department’s ability to adequately protect life and property within the Borough.