The Albertson fire horn in the parking lot of the...

The Albertson fire horn in the parking lot of the volunteer fire department on I.U. Willets Road is near homes, seen here on Oct. 7, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Judy Cartwright

Fire horns-- Are they still needed?

Several readers have asked if pagers or cellphones can't get the job done without submitting neighbors or passersby to the sudden blasts of noise.

We put the question to some local volunteer fire departments and the state organization of fire fighters. The response was uniform:

The horns remain the most dependable means of notifying volunteers.

Dan Giordano, a trustee of the Albertson Fire Department, said horns are "a redundant and supplementary method to notify volunteer firefighters and the public of the fact that there is an emergency . . . If we wish to maximize response, we need redundant methods to alert our personnel."

He pointed out that cellphones are subject to service outages, fading battery charges and locations without a signal. The horn also has the advantage of being heard over the roar of a lawn mower or snow blower.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that each department "have a primary and secondary means of alerting volunteers and off-duty personnel," said division manager Ken Willette. It's up to each department if the horn is primary or secondary.

Robert Leonard of Syosset, chairman of the public relations committee of the Firemen's Association of the State of New York, said the importance of horns became clear when superstorm Sandy demonstrated the "immediate impact on firefighters' ability to maintain communication."

Departments have made an effort to be considerate of neighbors, he said.

In Bayport, horns aren't used from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., said Ray Reilly, a member of the department's board of commissioners. Some residents have asked if horns can be moved, but Reilly said locations were chosen so the alarms will be effective. "They can't be some place that they can't be heard," he said.

In Albertson, "we are cognizant of the impact that fire horns and sirens have on those in our community who may live in the vicinity of the equipment," Giordano said. Horns are used only for an alarm of a "working fire," he said, and are turned off from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

In Northport, a decision was made about 20 years ago to stop using the air horn and sirens at four locations from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., the department said.

What would it take for such blasts to fade into history?

Willette said the alarms declined in use over time when he was chief of a volunteer department in Massachusetts.

"What moved them to do that was having [full-time] firefighters on duty at the station," he said, a move that meant "not relying on volunteers."

Judy Cartwright

The trunk of a massive tree was left leaning on the east side of Astor Drive in Sayville in the wake of superstorm Sandy. It seems to be leaning even more now. It should be removed before it falls.

Charles Abbatemarco, Sayville


The leaning tree is gone. It was removed in August by the Town of Islip's Department of Public Works, which handles removal and maintenance of trees in the town right of way.

Islip spokeswoman Patricia Kaloski said the work wasn't possible until PSEG Long Island cut away limbs that interfered with power lines.

Abbatemarco said he had notified authorities about the tree's condition in the months after Sandy hit in October 2012. The town had no record of complaints about the tree before our inquiry, Kaloski said, and by then PSEG had cut away the interfering limbs.

Once the tree was gone, Abbatemarco notified us: "It's cut right down to the ground -- much safer for people traveling on Astor."

Michael Ebert

Readers want to know why one of Nassau County's new speed cameras wound up at a school where they can't remember having seen students walk or ride bikes to campus.

So if student safety is an issue, they asked, how was William A. Shine Great Neck South High School chosen? The campus is bordered by major roadways: Lakeville Road and the South Service Road of the LIE.

The speed camera law permits their use in "school speed zones," and we were hard pressed to fathom how Great Neck South qualifies. The state law that sets conditions for a school speed zone requires one of these: "Some of the children [must] walk or bicycle to or from the facility." Or school facilities are "separated by a highway" that children must cross.

Still, Nassau County says the location is justified.

"Over the summer, a representative from the school district requested speed enforcement in this area," Judge John Marks, executive director of the county's Traffic and Parking Violations Agency, said in an emailed statement. Why? Some students walk to a nearby location for lunch, the county said.

The camera is on the South Service Road, where the posted school speed limit is 30 mph.

Judy Cartwright

Newsday Logo

ONE-DAYSALE5¢ a week for 5 6 months

Get Unlimited Access

Cancel anytime