Officials clash over volume of Wrightsville fire siren

Liz Evans Scolforo

Some Wrightsville residents have sounded the alarm about one of the borough fire company's two fire sirens, claiming it's so loud it could potentially damage the hearing of children, according to borough officials.

Wrightsville's borough council and fire chief are at odds about whether a fire siren at Fourth and Hellam streets is too loud.
(John A. Pavoncello photo)

But Chief Chad Livelsberger of Wrightsville Fire & Rescue Co. said he's seen no proof those claims are valid, and he said the sirens are important because York County's fire-paging system isn't 100 percent reliable.

"Nothing's been proven. No studies have been done," he said. "That siren's been there since the 1970s and this is the first time we've had this kind of push to turn it off."

Some local residents believe the siren — located on the property of Wrightsville Hope United Methodist Church at Fourth and Hellam streets — is an old air-raid siren, according to Livelsberger. But that's not true, he said.

"It is a Federal siren, the typical siren you'd see around any fire station," he said. The volume can not be adjusted, he said.

Letter coming: The Wrightsville Borough Council voted at its regular meeting Monday night to send a letter to the fire company and to the church about the siren's volume, according to Councilman Eric J. White.

"It's very loud," White said. "If you can stand there without clamping your hands over your ears, you're a better person than I am. And it's literally within a few feet of people's houses."

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White said he's not sure exactly what the letter will say, but it will be drafted by borough solicitor John Baranski, who did not return phone messages seeking comment.

Livelsberger said the fire company has not yet received the letter, so he also doesn't know what it will say. He said it's his understanding the borough wants both the fire company's sirens turned off. The second siren is at the fire station, 125 S. Second St.

White said the siren at the station house is not at issue. According to Livelsberger, the station-house siren is the louder of the two.

Both White and Livelsberger have said they hope there will be more communication between the borough and the fire company regarding the issue. White maintains fire officials haven't been responsive to concerns about the siren's volume, while Livelsberger maintains it's the borough council that hasn't adequately communicated with the fire company.

Wrightsville Fire Chief Chad Livelsberger

Two borough council members — Council President Greg Scritchfield and Councilman Michael Gromling — also serve as volunteer firefighters for the borough, Livelsberger said.

Too loud? White acknowledged there's a quality-of-life issue but said the primary issue is whether the volume of the siren is hurting kids. He said concerned residents went to borough officials to say they believe it is, and some of them gathered signatures on two petitions.

"I didn't have strong feelings about it one way or another until the group ... presented their evidence (to council)," White said. "They presented clear and convincing evidence that the siren is causing damage to their children's ears."

Federal guidelines appear to show that even a single exposure to the siren could be enough to cause hearing damage, White said.

Last month, the siren sounded 73 times for fire, rescue and other emergency calls in Wrightsville and its surrounding area, Livelsberger confirmed.

"Our No.1 priority is to protect and serve the people of Wrightsville, and (having the siren) is the best way we can get people to the fire station," the chief said. "The thing that's really mind-boggling to me is that a fire siren in a community is not uncommon in the state of Pennsylvania. At least 75 to 80 percent of the fire departments in York County have sirens."

Paging system: About 90 percent of the borough's volunteer firefighters rely on the sirens to alert them to calls, according to Livelsberger. Sometimes they'll be mowing their lawns or asleep and hear the sirens but not their pagers, he said. And sometimes the county's paging system fails, he said.

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The paging system failed five times in either February or March, Livelsberger said, and perhaps twice last month.

The chief said borough firefighters notified Eric Bistline, executive director of the county's Department of Emergency Services, who then sent a letter to the borough saying there were no issues with the paging system.

According to White, Bistline sent Wrightsville a letter stating tests were run and that the paging system was working fine.

Separate issue: White said he has no reason to doubt what firefighters are saying. He said he'll go with them to discuss the matter with county officials, if it comes to that. But that's a separate issue from the volume of the siren, he said.

"You don't put a train wreck on top of a train wreck," he said. "As a councilman, it's my responsibility if I see something to act on it. ... If we fail to act, I can see potential liability for the borough."

The councilman said the issue was discussed during at least three council meetings before action was taken Monday. Livelsberger said he was present for two of them but was unable to attend Monday night's meeting.

Mayor in the middle: Wrightsville Mayor Neil Habecker is basically in the middle, "trying to navigate this whole thing," he said, and confirmed he hasn't taken a side on whether there should be a siren swan song.

"I'm looking for a solution," Habecker said. "It's something that does have to be worked through and resolved."

Livelsberger and White agree.

"We're just waiting for something official from the borough," Livelsberger said.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.