Volunteer Firefighters

In this day and age, does the siren really call the volunteers? Or, is it really just an outmoded tradition with telephonic autodialing devices, and such.

I have been away from the biz for a long time (Ex-EMT) but department issued pagers were the most common things I saw. I would imagine text messaging is the way to go now.

Where I live in Montana we are serviced by VFDs, and in the years we have lived here I have never heard the siren go off to call volunteers into action. It goes off every day at noon, but that’s a different thing.

I think land line phones replaced the siren or fire bell, then pagers replaced the land line phone, and now cell phones have replaced pagers.

However they are doing it these days seems to work pretty well since I haven’t heard anybody complain about their response times.

Some are still in use. There’s a volunteer firehouse near my place of work that has one.
I think it’s more a matter of tradition.

Same thing in my hometown in VT.

My dad was fire chief for almost 20 years, so I got to see the system progress. The first thing I remember was the “fire phone,” as we called it. The town didn’t have a 911 service, so the fire department was a local number you dialed. That number then rang the phone of several fire department members (chief, asst. chief, lieutenants and captains, etc…) What was weird, was when the phone rang, it was one long, continuous ring. Confused a lot of people if they were visiting when it happened. But that way everyone knew what it was, so you’d know not to answer it.

I don’t totally understand how the system worked, but I think someone would answer it, and after getting the details, would radio a dispatcher in a nearby, larger, town (who served as dispatcher for a lot of towns in the country,) and then a tone went out to the pagers, that all the members had, followed by a brief summary of the fire/accident and location. One would think the phone could just ring to the dispatcher…I mean, that eventually happened when they finally implemented a 911 service in the mid-90’s.

So after the country got a centralized 911 system, that first step was bypassed, and when you called 911 you just got the dispatcher who put the call out over the pagers, as before.
But that old siren (well, really it’s more like a foghorn) still goes off every day at noon, as well as when the power goes out. It’s fun to have someone from out of town be downtown near the fire department when it goes off…it can be quite load.

The siren is part of civil defense and not the fire dept/station and can be used for many things, calling firefighters is just part of it’s use which is still a backup system used today. I would WAG it’s placed on firehouses because many firefighters are volunteer and on call and need to be signaled unlike police or EMT who are stationed on site. If the e911 radio system gets knocked out the fire station can revert to manually triggering it to notify nearby firefighters. It is also automatically triggered by radio for a call, so a nearby volunteer may hear it when they don’t have their pager or cell phone on them.

Pagers are still the ‘official’ way firefighters are notified near me but txt messaging and also being able to hear the county e911 dispatch via smartphone apps once notified via txt seems to be making serious inroads, at least for day to day use. In a state of emergency situation where you know the likelihood of being dispatched is high, the pager is more reliable to have.

In the Navy, I went through nuclear power training at a power plant in Upstate New York. This was the real deal with reactors and all. Consequently, they had a siren that was supposed to warn the public of impending doom. They gave it one “woop” to signal lunch time every day, and on Saturdays they ran it up for a long test.

One morning I was at home trying to get to sleep after a night shift, when I heard the wail of an air raid siren going. The first thought that entered my head was “Why are they running that thing at eight in the morning :eek:”

The siren eventually stopped and nobody seemed to be doing anything around town. I went in to work that night, curious if anything had happened. All was normal.

Then someone explained to me how volunteer fire departments work. I hadn’t heard the siren from the plant; it was the local fire department’s siren :smack:.

My sister was a per-call firefighter (which may be a more accurate term, since she was paid for responses), and she was called by a pager.


Thanks, all, for your replies.

To add if I may to what “BOUV” posted;
The phone system that he made reference to was called a BAR system IIRC.
I had 2 of those phones in the house back in the 80’s & early 90’s. One, my phone line was the fire phone, and the second was the ambulance phone. As stated the phone would ring for 1 full min if not picked up and it was a party line connected to up to 20 homes w/all listening and the 1st one to identify would take the information.
The real race would then start! If one still had the rotary dial phone dialing “O” before hanging up would trip the siren. We would hear all kinds of pulses as 10+ phones were dialing “O”:smiley:
When the new age phone systems came into use we lost our fire phone and pagers were then the standard but the ambulance system worked well with the BAR system phones and when a system was found, I remember learning this system was used in airports, we used it up to about 2000.
Today I have a dual alert pager on my belt and a 800MHZ 2-way trunking radio w/ 64 channel’s and only need 2 or 3!
Now back in the 50’s,
City town fire departments didn’t service rural outlying areas and the way those folks got phone lines, after the REA’s was the phone was their fire protection.
This was mostly a bucket brigade but the phone was the old “WHO"S THAT!, Box on the Wall” when someone needed help they would crank the snott out of the phone thereby alerting all the neighbors of their emergency!