Some sound off on firefighters’ siren

In response to noise complaints, the Indian Harbour Beach Volunteer Fire Department is considering limits on blasting its alert siren to summon volunteer firefighters.

The siren at Station 56 on Pinetree Drive – the city’s only fire station – is used in addition to cellphones and pagers to summon the department’s 25 volunteer firefighters.

Recently, the Insurance Services Organization performed a Public Protection Classification (PPC) review of the city’s Volunteer Fire Department and it received a PPC classification of “3” for insurance rating, which helps residents and businesses on their property insurance premium, according to City Manager Mark Ryan during a report to city council July 9.

One of the components of achieving the classification is the response time for calls for service from members, some of whom may not live within the community.

Half the volunteers are Indian Harbour Beach residents. Chief Todd Scaldo contends that use of the siren addresses issues that have occurred in the past.

“Sometimes volunteer firefighters do not carry their pagers or cellphones around when working in the yard, swimming in the pool, or at the beach, etc. That is where the siren comes into play,’’ he said.

Based on complaints, the City Council discussed Scaldo possibly making changes to the current siren policy that includes being activated from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for a period of 3 minutes.

Possible changes include shortening the duration time of the siren from 3 minutes to 2 minutes or 1 minute, and also adjusting the times of activation from to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., he said.

“We want to make sure we are looking at everything that may help better service the residents and notify the volunteers of Indian Harbour Beach,’’ he said.

Changes, if any, will be discussed first with the city manager, police chief and fire department officers/personnel before being implemented, he said.

Indian Harbour Beach has only volunteer fire department in the county to use sirens, in their case starting in 2007.

The other volunteer departments include Mims, Four Communities covering North Cocoa/Port St. John, and Merritt Island, said Andy Gillis, deputy chief at Four Communities.

Most departments shifted from sirens years ago to VHF paging systems and later an app-based system to computers and cellphones.

“A siren is a great way to notify staff, assuming they live and or work in proximity to the siren. Our problem is that our volunteer base is spreading out. Smartphones are amazing and fast, and aren’t limited by signals that can’t get into buildings … but we are all afraid of what happens in a catastrophic power or network outage,’’ Gillis said.

The biggest advantage to an app-based system is that managers know how many volunteers are on the way, he said.

Volunteers comprise 65 percent of firefighters in the United States. Of the total estimated 1,056,200 firefighters across the country, 682,600 are volunteer, according to National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), the leading nonprofit membership association representing the interests of volunteer fire, EMS, and rescue services since 1976.

The number of volunteer firefighters in the U.S. reached a low in 2019. At the same time, call volume ha tripled in the last 30 years, due in large part to the increase in emergency medical calls.

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