By Joe Beck
Strasburg's firefighters have been answering the department's wailing siren for generations, its call to action serving as a kind of soundtrack to community emergencies.
The siren endures in an age of telecommunications devices that are quieter and even faster than the speed of sound, but a town meeting scheduled for this week has signaled some residents may be ready for a change.
Representatives of the Strasburg Fire Department, led by retired chief Bill Walton, have planned the meeting to explain why they believe the siren remains the best way of informing other department members of an emergency.
Fire Chief Jeff Wharton said he and Mayor Timothy Taylor decided to call the meeting for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Hall after some residents complained to Taylor about the noise that blankets the town every time the siren sounds.
Wharton said, "There's been a couple of complaints about it going off, but we haven't had any significant ones."
Wharton refused to talk about what the Fire Department plans to present at the meeting, but Walton left no doubt those who attend will hear a staunch defense of the siren and why it should remain a fixture in the town.
Walton, who said he will be speaking for the department at the meeting, said the siren has worked well for the 63 years he has been fighting fires in Strasburg, including the 30 he spent as chief. He said he sees no reason to change it.
"Hopefully, I can convince the people that it's needed," Walton said. "For one thing, we've used it for centuries, I reckon. This is a volunteer company. Of course, we have a radio system through the county, but it doesn't work as well as it ought to."
Strasburg's reliance on volunteers means that no one is consistently at the station, although some volunteers stay there overnight, Walton said. While most of the volunteers own pagers, the $400 or $500 cost is too much for some, he added.
Walton rejected complaints he has heard from some that the siren makes it hard for people to have normal telephone conversations while it is wailing.
"If you can't convince whoever is on the other end of the line that the fire alarm is somebody calling for help, if they can't take a minute or two to hold until the alarm quits blowing, that's selfish as the devil to me," Walton said.
Most of the Fire Department's neighbors among the businesses on Main Street bristled at the suggestion that the siren noise is excessive.
Jane Lambert, owner of the Cut and Curl Beauty Salon, said the siren was a valuable warning to drivers on Main Street that fire trucks were about to enter the road.
"We haven't had anybody question it until now," Lambert said. "It kind of surprises me that people wouldn't want it."
Not everyone who works on Main Street is a fan of the siren, though. K.C. Barrow, a teacher at the Blue Ridge Day Care and Preschool, said the toddlers surrounding her in one of the rooms have mixed reactions when the siren goes off.
Some of the children run straight to the door to watch the trucks as they head out, she said. But sometimes the noise awakens children from their sleep, and one boy finds the racket hard to take, she said.
"This one gets scared by it," she said, gesturing to the boy. "He starts screaming. He cries."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org