Soon to be blast from the past?

Gwen Chamberlain

The distinctive, startling sound of the Penn Yan fire horn may not be silenced entirely, but efforts are underway to update some systems so the loud, sometimes frightening alarm will be heard in rare cases.

Village Director of Public Works Brent Bodine says the Penn Yan Fire Department and village officials are working with Yates County 911 communications to find alternative technology to replace the pull stations that can be found at various locations around the village to trigger the alarm.

When that happens, the only time the loud fire horn will be heard is when 911 dispatchers activate it. Bodine says, “If this is done, when that horn goes off, we’ll know it’s something real.”

The use of the system has been phasing out over time, with Penn Yan Fire Department dispatched most often by portable radios or pagers. But some locations in the village still have pull stations that trigger the alarm, and, as Bodine explains, that blasting horn, which is part of the Gamewell built system based in the Elm Street Fire House, is a public service that exists now. His interpretation of the process to discontinue use of the Gamewell system very well could include a public referendum to allow the village to decommission the 1950’s era equipment.

The Fire Department is testing software and technology that will replace the system, which would cost more than $20,000 to repair.

Village officials have heard complaints about the loud alarm system for some time, and concerns about the reaction to the alarm from guests at the Microtel under construction across the street from the fire house have been voiced since that project was announced.

An ad hoc committee was appointed by the mayor last year to look into alternatives.

Bodine says the combination of the cost of repairs, the overall age of the system, the need for continued testing of the system, and ongoing operational costs have lead to the decision to decommission it.

When the system was installed in 1937, the following appeared in The Chronicle-Express: “The new fire alarm signal has been tested out for the past three days by Engineer Jepson, of the Newton Falls, Mass. headquarters of the Gamewell Company. The new signal is the diaphone, or fog horn type, and is operated by compressed air. The pipe is elevated above the level of adjoining buildings on Engine House No. 1, Main Street, and is guaranteed to send its warning blasts to reach all ears within a radius of two miles.”

Up until a few years ago, the fog horn blasts were fed through the compressed air system in a pattern so those listening and counting the cadence could determine the location of a fire. A ticker tape apparatus in the firehouse also prints out the location of the call box that was pulled.

Bodine updated the village board about the system at the Jan. 20 village board meeting, and said notifications have gone out to various organizations that use pull stations in the system. “This is just the beginning of the process,” he said.

The board agreed to spend $11,775 to install new equipment in the 911 dispatch center and disconnect the Gamewell system.

Bodine says details regarding the process that will involve the public vote, if necessary, will be publicized.

Other business on the board’s agenda last week included:

• Bonds: The board agreed to issue $703,825 in serial bonds to pay for infrastructure improvements related to the Penn Yan Waterfront Revitalization/Redevelopment Project at a maximum cost of $980.000.

• The End is Near: A group of downtown merchants attended the meeting to seek approval for a March 14 end of winter celebration they are planning to hold in the municipal parking lot off Wagener Street, behind businesses on the west side of Main Street and south side of Elm Street. Nathan Baker said the concert will begin at 10 a.m. and continue until 10 p.m. Local businesses and vendors will sell food and beverages. Attorney Ed Brockman suggested organizers meet with all village department heads to ensure all issues are considered.

• 112 Clinton Street: The board approved the demolition of the house at 112 Clinton Street which was heavily damaged by the May 2014 floods. The Historic Preservation Commission approved the demolition application Jan. 13.

• Keuka Arts Festival: The board approved the Keuka Arts Festival request to hold the 2015 festival June 13 and 14 at the village boat launch and along the Keuka Outlet.

• Recreation Code: The board unanimously approved changes to the Parks and Playground Chapter of the Village Code. The changes include specific names for various parks, prohibiting dogs other than service dogs from swimming and beach areas, and the process for setting annual hours of operation. Trustee Rich Stewart, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Committee explained the changes.