published Sunday, December 16th, 2012

South Pittsburg revives old fire siren

SOUTH PITTSBURG, Tenn. — Before the days of pagers and cellphones, an ear-piercing siren on the roof of the South Pittsburg Volunteer Fire Department warned firefighters and residents of an emergency situation.

When technology surpassed it, the siren sat rusting against the building's wall until it was resurrected a few years ago.

On Tuesday, the South Pittsburg City Commission voted unanimously to use the siren again whenever there is a fire in town.

Commissioner Jimmy Wigfall, who recommended the move, said recent fires involving sleeping residents who didn't realize they were in danger prompted his motion.

"We've got a pager system [for the firefighters], but the people in these places that are on fire [don't have that]," he said. "I think we need to blow that horn."

Wigfall acknowledged many local residents won't like the city's renewed use of the blaring horn, especially in the middle of the night.

"I know it irritates people, but it's not irritating when it's your place burning," he said. "It's public safety."

Initially, Public Safety Director Dale Winters said he was concerned about taking a firefighter "away from the scene" to operate the siren.

Mayor Jane Dawkins suggested putting a police officer in charge of controlling the siren during a fire emergency.

"We can do that," Winters said. "I don't have a problem with it going off at night. We can try it and see how it goes."

City Attorney Tracy Wooden said the town would "probably not" be liable for fire-related injuries if it did not use the siren as a warning even though it was available.

"I think it's just a policy issue," he said. "If that's something [the board] wants to do or give a try, I think you need a vote to do it, so [Winters] and his people understand that's [the board's] directive."

Wigfall said one of the reasons officials stopped using the siren for fires more than 20 years ago was because people tended to "gravitate to the fire" and cause disruptions.

People need to be issued citations or warnings if that becomes a problem again, he said.

"There's a public safety concern that we need to take care of," he said. "We have the horn in place. All we have to do is hit the button."

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