An emergency warning siren tested Tuesday, six months and two days after the Tubbs Fire erupted, may one day be the difference in saving lives if Calistoga goes ahead with the purchase of a system that could warn residents of danger and afford them a little more time to escape.
People got tired of the noise from the old siren system, didn’t think the community needed it, and wanted it removed, said Calistoga Fire Chief Steve Campbell. Now those annoying sirens are being re-evaluated as an effective warning system that should never have been removed.
Some who attended a recent community forum said they wished there was a siren blaring the night of the Tubbs Fire, and one man who spoke said he used his car horn as he was fleeing and was told by neighbors later that his honking was what got them to take notice and leave.
Scores of communities are scrambling to get sirens in place again, said people involved with Tuesday’s test, conducted in the parking lot adjacent to the Tedeschi Little League Field.
“We’re getting calls from southern California, Ventura County, Kelseyville,” and all over the state of California from those interested in testing or purchasing sirens, said Duncan Scott, western region sales manager for Federal Signal, the company whose siren was being tested on lower Washington Street late Tuesday morning. The rush to get sirens in place started last year, Scott said, after the flurry of fires in Wine Country, followed closely by a similar pattern of fires in southern California.
Should Calistoga purchase sirens, the company that conducted sound tests in the area recommended installing two, Campbell said, making it possible to reach residents beyond the city’s limits. There was no fire damage done to any structure or property within Calistoga’s city limits, but there was significant damage to areas within the shared 94515 ZIP code.
One siren would be placed near the outside of a mobile home park near Dunaweal Lane and the other would be placed in the vicinity of Greenwood Avenue and Grant Street. The sound study showed that the one near Dunaweal would reach from the southeastern edges of the city out to Calistoga High School, and the Greenwood Avenue siren would reach from the high school and circle outward from there into the northern reaches.
The sirens would be mounted on 50-foot poles and rotate 360 degrees. It takes a full minute for the siren to circle around, blasting the entire time. The siren Calistoga tested Tuesday has three distinct sounds that could be designated to indicate the type of emergency, Campbell said. They could assign a particular sound to a specific event, such as fire, earthquake or a monthly test, he said.
Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said at the March 21 community meeting that the sheriff’s department is upgrading its siren system, which is essentially a software upgrade that could – and hopefully will – coordinate the distinct sounds with Cal Fire and the county’s various fire departments, so that there is consistency across the region when it comes to emergency notifications.
Relying on just technology isn’t going to work, emergency officials have said, because on the night of the fires some cell phone towers went down, making smartphones – and Nixle services – unavailable. Because the power was out in some areas, traditional home phones didn’t work either. There now needs to be overlapping notifications, Campbell said, that would incorporate new and old technology.
The sirens – at a cost of $25,000 each – come with three boxes each, one that contains the “brains” of the system, which also has an alert system to let the fire department know if anyone is tampering with it, and two boxes with a back-up battery system. Luke Miller, a representative from West Shores Services, was on hand at the siren test. He or another representative of the company would attend annual safety checks of the system.
Campbell isn’t content that last fall’s fires have lessened the risk. In fact he’s prepared for another fire season, pointing out that there was a quarter-acre grass fire just Monday in an area covered in green grass not far from the Little League Field.
He said he didn’t know if, or when, the systems would be put in place because he is waiting for direction from the mayor and city manager on whether or not to purchase the sirens.