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Billy Birch

(Jan. 8, 2021) With some emergency sirens nearly 100 hundred years old, the Worcester County Commissioners will have the 19 sirens in the county evaluated, and will take over responsibility for their maintenance. 

Last month, the department of emergency services found that sirens were out of service in Ocean Pines, Bishopville and Pocomoke. Ocean City handles its own emergency siren system. 

According to Billy Birch, director of emergency services, the county is responsible for the siren control box and the system that supports activation, while the volunteer fire departments are responsible for the siren itself and the power. 

During the Worcester County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Birch said he was looking for direction from the commissioners and was seeking approval to have the sirens evaluated. The previous vendor for the sirens is no longer available.

James Hamilton, emergency services assistant director, explained that a manufacturer from the Midwest would work on the sirens for a week.

“The intention is basically top-to-bottom maintenance, evaluation, and anything that can be fixed during the trip, to have it fixed,” Hamilton said.

Several commissioners expressed surprise that evaluating the sirens would cost $14,050. 

“In reading this proposal, it seems outrageous, and I understand that sometimes it’s because there’s not a lot of competition out there,” Nordstrom said. 

Hamilton said that the old vendor was bought out and that another option in New Jersey may have gone out of business, leaving the county with Federal Signal out of Illinois. 

Birch added that this could be an opportunity to centralize the system, and that some sirens had been in place since 1925. 

Commissioner Jim Bunting questioned the need for the county to take over responsibility for the sirens.

“We don’t have to do everything, we just have to repair the ones that need repairing,” Bunting said. 

Commissioner Chip Bertino said although $14,000 was a sizable sum, a working siren system was necessary. 

“I believe we should have a system that if an emergency comes up, tornado, hurricane, whatever it might be, that we have an avenue that we can alert our citizenry because a lot of folks that come into our community aren’t necessarily tied into our red alert system through emergency services,” Bertino said. 

Commissioner Ted Elder agreed, and added that they couldn’t move forward unless they knew what was wrong with the sirens. 

“I understand it’s a lot of money, but sometimes you’ve just got to invest in that,” Elder said. 

Commissioner Joseph Mitrecic reassured other commissioners that the price for evaluating the sirens is not necessarily out of order.

“To climb up to get to them and get a lift . . . it does cost a little bit,” Mitrecic said. “$14,000 may seem like a large number, but in the scope of things, what has to be done to get to them alone is an expensive venture.” 

As for the timeframe, Hamilton said the vendor might be able to arrive in the next 60 to 90 days, pending covid-19, and that the service would be an over-expenditure. 

The commissioners also wondered why two sirens in Ocean Pines weren’t connected. 

Hamilton explained that one siren was mechanically damaged and another had a wiring problem and that overall, it was a miscommunication that they were not replaced. 

Bertino suggested the county take over responsibility of the sirens to avoid malfunctions during an emergency. 

The motions to take funds from the county fund balance to have the sirens evaluated and for the county to take over the sirens passed unanimously.

 

Elizabeth covers Worcester County issues for Ocean City Today. In 2018, she graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa with a bachelor of arts. After graduation, Elizabeth spent a year with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in Wilmington, Delaware.

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