The town sirens in Carlton County communities have been silent the last few months when the fire department or emergency medical services are called.
“Thirty to 50 years ago, the sirens were used to call the firefighters or the ambulance,” said Brian Belich, the Emergency Management Director for Carlton County in a recent interview. “The sirens would let the public know that the firefighters would be driving to the fire hall and to watch for the emergency vehicles.”
However, the use of the sirens also had drawbacks.
“They created a false sense of security,” said Belich. “It really hit me when I talked to people that had been playing golf at the Black Bear Golf Course. Dark clouds passed over, and, when the golfers heard the siren in Carlton, they took shelter in the clubhouse. That puts it in perspective. It wasn’t a dangerous weather situation; the siren was blowing for another reason.”
Belich said that people were accustomed to hearing frequent sirens and didn’t pay attention to them. Or they didn’t know the meaning of the different siren blasts.
“The siren itself won’t tell people what to do,” he said.
Firefighters and ambulance personnel carry pagers and radios, and have been alerted with that technology in recent years.
“Siren calls are a thing of the past,” said Belich.
Belich explained that the Emergency Management group discussed discontinuing the use of the sirens for quite some time.
“It was not an easy decision and not a quick decision,” he said. “We talked about it for almost a year. Change is hard.
“The logic of it is that everyone is on the same page. We will fall into step with the state test at 1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of every month by setting off the sirens.”
The sirens will still be used for weather alerts, such as during the tornado season, he added, or to warn of hazardous spills that will affect a community.
“When there is a spill or threatening weather, a message will be scrolled across the TV screens and broadcast on the radio,” said Belich. “Next year, we will take the next step in alerting the public. We are planning on adding texting on cell phones and computers to alert the public.”
Belich added that the new system is costly, and it will take time to implement the new technology.
With the new 800 megahertz system now in use in Carlton County, which uses a narrow bandwidth, there has been concern that the sirens are compatible with the new system.
It has been said that Moose Lake’s siren is new enough to be compatible with the new system, and Barnum’s siren is also compatible.
The city of Barnum has been without a siren since the control panel was damaged during the installation of controls for the city’s new well.
The city council had been searching for a new siren, and was expecting to pay well over $10,000 when a siren became available at no charge.
“Jeff Juntunen of the Esko Fire Department said that they had the old sirens from Duluth,” explained Public Works Supervisor Brett Collier in a telephone interview. “The person that removed the sirens is the same person that put one of those sirens up in Barnum. We are waiting for DSC Communications to come and install the new control panel.”
Collier added that he made sure that the siren would be compatible with the new radio system before it was installed.
Although the sirens are not being used for emergency calls in many of the cities in Carlton County, Collier explained that the sirens are owned by the cities, and that each city can determine if the siren will be used for emergency calls.
“We haven’t decided that yet in Barnum,” said Collier. “We are still discussing whether we will use the siren as we did before or just for weather warnings.”