By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The call-out of Graton volunteer firefighters for the past 55 years has relied on the piercing sound of a World War II-era siren, which can also be heard like clockwork daily at noon and for Thursday night training.
Depending on your sensitivities, it is either historic and nostalgic or anachronistic and annoying.
“Honestly, I feel like if I was deep in the countryside and I heard the siren going off, it would be comforting to know someone is on the way,” said Susan Sykes, who lives next to the fire station. “For some people, if they don’t get used to it, it is awful.”
Sykes was among the 400 who signed a petition to retain the siren during the department’s fundraising pancake breakfast two weeks ago, a petition laced with hand-written “Keep It!” and “Love it!” comments.
Graton resident Danelle Jacobs, however, believes the siren is unnecessary She is part of Citizens for a Better Community, which has a lawsuit pending in Sonoma County Superior Court to stop it.
“We are asking that they turn it off completely and rely on pagers like all the other fire districts do without problems,” Jacobs said.
The issue is coming to a head on June 7, when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is expected to make a decision on whether the volunteer fire department can bring the siren to its new $4 million station at Highway 116 and Green Valley Road in mid-July.
Deputy Chief Bill Bullard maintains that the hilly area in Graton and western Sonoma County creates dead spots where signals don’t reach cell phones and pagers, leaving the siren as the only reliable way to call its 25 volunteers.
The siren is now used about 500 times a year for emergency calls, according to Bullard.
The fire department created a committee to study using other technology, on orders from Sonoma County, but in its report prepared for the Board of Supervisors, the committee says it has not found a satisfactory alternative.
As a compromise, the committee recommends the fire department turn off the siren between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless there is a house fire or other critical emergency, instead of sounding it for any call.
The committee also recommends beginning a program of having volunteer firefighters sleep overnight at the firehouse so they don’t have to be summoned by the siren or a pager.
It would continue to be set off at noon and for Thursday night volunteer drills, Bullard said.
David Powell of the Blue Spruce Homeowners Association, a mobile home park with 74 senior residents next to the new station, isn’t sure the compromise is enough when the siren moves to within 1,300 feet of the park.
“That siren is part of the heart of what Graton is,” said Powell, bowing to its history. “But it will not only be very loud and very disruptive, it will be a hazard to the very health of our people.”
Powell recognizes there are a number of residents in the mobile home park who disagree with him.
“I don’t think they will be as enthusiastic when they are that up close to it,” Powell said. “We will see where it goes.”