Community

Should Greenport silence its fire alarm?

A pair of dueling petitions on the topic of fire department sirens has sparked a sharp debate among Greenport Village residents.

Last week, Torah Torres created a change.org petition asking officials to silence the “extremely loud, disruptive, annoying and misleading” sirens that blare to alert responders to calls, but also disrupts sleep of nearby residents.

In her petition, Ms. Torres argues that the sirens “create tension in our calm countryside that so many are living here in Greenport to enjoy,” and aren’t necessary due to advances in communications technology.

Ms. Torres also said the sirens are reminiscent of tornado alarms that she experienced growing up in Iowa.

The petition seeks to have the alarms either shut off permanently or at least overnight between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., requiring volunteers to rely solely on cell phones or pagers.

The petition had approximately 28 signatures as of Monday.

But there is opposition from residents who say the sirens don’t bother them and are necessary.

A second petition in support of the sirens was created over the weekend by Robin Roemer, who notes that silencing the sirens could lead to delays in response time throughout the village. Her petition quickly collected more than 1,000 signatures.

“Our sirens save lives,” Ms. Roemer wrote in the petition’s description.

Though Ms. Torres’ petition says she believes the sirens are used for “nostalgia reasons or ignorance,” Mayor George Hubbard said Monday the sirens are absolutely necessary.

Mr. Hubbard, who is also a member of the Greenport Fire Department, said only sirens for general alarms — structure fires and similar calls — go off at all hours of the day. Rescue alarms, he said, which make up the majority of their calls, do not go off between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“Yes, it can be annoying,” he said. “There’s going to be noise, flashing lights and sirens. But it lets people know what’s going on,” Mr. Hubbard said.

Just this weekend, he said he was in his backyard without his phone or pager nearby and was alerted to a fire call when he heard the sirens from home.

“If I didn’t hear the siren, I wouldn’t have known about it,” he said.

The cell phone pager system, he added, can be unreliable especially in areas with poor reception.

“Unfortunately, some are  bothered by the sirens, but it means someone else needs help,” Mr. Hubbard said.

In addition to unreliable cell phone service throughout the village, Greenport Fire Department chief Wade Manwaring said the department does not provide pagers to the approximately 125 volunteers.

“Greenport doesn’t have a big budget where we could buy everyone pagers,” he said, estimating that it could cost between $500 and $1,000 for each member.

Mr. Manwaring said he’s against stopping the use of the sirens. “We’re not the only town,” he said, noting that every department from Mattituck to Orient uses their sirens. “We rely on it,” he said.

Ms. Torres, who lives on Third Street, said in an interview Monday that it wasn’t her intent to cause a rift. “It wasn’t about me winning this, but more about finding out what other options are available, and if it’s really keeping our community safe,” she said. “I’m a problem solver — if people need pagers, let’s raise some money. That kind of thinking,” she said.

Despite a deluge of often negative comments online, Ms. Torres said she’s glad to have sparked some open discussion. She said she has nothing but respect for the first responders and it’s not her goal to change, but improve upon, the community.

“For me, it’s important to not be afraid to voice your opinion. That’s unhealthy,” she said.

Ms. Roemer said Monday that she didn’t mean any ill will towards Ms. Torres by creating the counter-petition. As a nurse who has volunteered as an EMT with East Marion, she said delays in alerts could be deadly. “[Cell service] is sketchy between Mattituck and Orient,” she said. “Five minutes could mean the whole house is involved,” she said.