Muzzle That Siren, Neighbors Plead With Bel Air Fire Dept.

June 16, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Listen carefully, and you can still hear some Bel Air residents complaining, even above the wail of the fire siren.

The Town Council heard the appeals for relief earlier this year and met with the Bel Air Volunteer Fire Department to consider whether it should discontinuethe piercing alarm siren that calls volunteers to emergencies day and night.

But after a work session in March, the council reported back withno recommendation, satisfied with Fire Chief Richard A. Woodward's explanation that he needs the siren to bring in the necessary staff ata moment's notice.

Still, Giles Street resident Hawley Harmon isn't about to keep quiet, so he continues to argue his case in regionalnewspapers.

After coming home from work at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Harmon would like some peace in his home, a duplex just a block behind the fire station. He doesn't accept the argument that he should have learned to "tune out" the alarm after living in Bel Air for a year.

"Some people sleep very dead. Some people sleep light," he said Wednesday. "It tends to wake me early in the mornings after about four hours of sleep."

Harmon argues that the only reason the station still uses the siren is for public relations, "to let people know the company is on the job."

His goal is to silence the siren between 12 p.m. and 6 a.m., when there's a volunteer crew sleeping at the station.

But Chief Woodward told the City Council that major emergencies require more personnel and the pocket beepers assigned to some of the 150 volunteers are not dependable.

Jean Graybeal, whose husband, Eugene, was the only Town Council candidate this year to campaign against the siren, complained, "This is such an old story. I've been fussing about it for 12 years."

"I'm violently opposed to the noise that comes from the sirens," she said Friday. "Every year, I send in my money to the department and say, 'Please stop it.' "

If nothing else, Graybeal said, the fire station should change the way it uses the siren.

"The siren's too sustained," she said. "They hold the high note for a count of 12 and the dogs howl because it hurts their ears. The people don't howl, but it hurts their ears too."

If anybody else made that much racket, neighbors could simply appeal forrelief under the county's noise ordinance. But the Bel Air Fire Department is exempt from the law as a public safety provider.

Harmon's County Council representative, Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, is sympathetic to his goal of imposing a siren curfew.

"It's not something I would absolutely not back," she said Friday. "But I'd want tohear from the Fire Department that they would get enough volunteers to respond without the siren."

After meeting with Woodward in March, Pierno concluded that the siren is necessary. She said she was satisfied with his assurance that the station has limited sounding the alarm repeatedly for the same emergency.

"I haven't received any other calls or letters on this," she said.

"I think I've asked the questions and gotten the answers, and there's not much else I can do about it."

But Graybeal has one last solution that she want to pursue in a new noise-control campaign.

"If it's just tradition, in the early days of the county, they used the bell in the court house tower," she said.

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