Fallon’s noon siren shows still sounding off
Lahontan Valley News
FALLON – You know you live in a small town when … There is a multitude of ways to finish that statement, but one of the most obvious, and loudest, ways to determine if you’re in a small burg is the sounding of a siren promptly at noon every day.
Yes, it’s tradition by now, but why did it start in Fallon in the first place?
The noon siren is the same as the fire siren that is sounded when the volunteer fire department is called to service.
Former mayor and longtime Fallon resident Mert Domonoske said the siren was initiated about 1948 when the city’s volunteer fire department was stationed at City Hall.
When the siren blew, volunteer firefighters were alerted about the fire and rushed to the station.
“Until 10 to 15 years ago, that was the only way to get (the word) to the firemen,” Domonoske said.
Almost 60 years ago, volunteer firefighters had to live within three miles of the station so they could hear the siren.
Domonoske said before the siren was installed in 1948, the old bell in front of the current firehouse was used to call the volunteer fire department. More recently, volunteer firefighters are alerted to fires by their pagers and are allowed to live several miles outside the city in the county.
“The whistle was mounted on top of City Hall near where it is now and it blew at noon to make sure it was available for the fire department when they have a fire call,” said Domonoske, who served as mayor from 1971 to 1987.
The noon siren used to sound seven days a week until another former mayor approached the City Council to request a quiet midday.
Jack Tedford, “a good Baptist man,” Domonoske said, attended the Baptist church a block from City Hall on the corner of First Street and Laverne Street – the current juvenile probation office.
Tedford, mayor of Fallon from 1959 to 1971, grew tired of having the preacher’s sermon interrupted by the noon whistle and asked the City Council to quiet the alarm on Sundays. The council agreed, and midday Sundays have been quiet ever since.
The original siren was replaced with a bigger and louder siren atop a pole behind City Hall in 1972, Domonoske recalled. The fire siren is triggered by Churchill County Sheriff’s Department dispatchers, located a block north of City Hall, but the noon siren is an automated task.
With today’s pagers and cell phones, is the fire siren even necessary?
It is, said City Engineer Larry White. The sounding of the fire whistle alerts residents and drivers there’s a fire and that volunteer firefighters will be rushing to the firehouse.
But imagine living across the street from City Hall, hearing the siren sound at all hours of the night. One business owner isn’t so fond of the city’s daily blast of communication.
Kusum Patel and her husband own and live at the Value Inn located across Williams Avenue from the siren at City Hall and across Carson Street from the fire department.
She said the siren “goes off at any hour,” and numerous customers ask her about the racket.
Most customers unfamiliar with half-century-old custom call the front desk to inquire about the loud siren and accept the explanation.
Some, however, are a little less comfortable with the siren. Patel said one visiting customer was truly afraid of military attack when the siren sounded.
Fallon’s fire/noon siren sounds very similar to air raid sirens used in other parts of the world.
“I don’t know now why we need it,” Patel said. “Before it was necessary, but not now. If you can stop it, I will appreciate it.”
While the siren is no doubt rattling for those who live nearby, it is not unique to Fallon.
A quick Internet search reveals a plethora of YouTube posts featuring sirens from across the country and the world. From Ohio, to Kansas, Indiana and Montana, many small towns stoke the tradition to sound the siren at noon each day.
For many Midwestern towns, though, the siren serves a necessary purpose – it announces an approaching tornado. Fortunately, Fallon isn’t prone to such natural disasters.
“It’s a tradition,” said Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. “If we took it away we’d get more complaints. I like traditions, it’s important to the community.”
The mayor agreed with the city engineer that the fire siren is useful in alerting drivers to volunteers responding to a fire emergency. He said he sees no need to discontinue sounding the siren at noon because it also serves an important purpose.
“It’s not hurting anybody. It’s tradition, and some people have told me they know to go to lunch when they hear the noon whistle,” Tedford said.
So while it’s not necessarily needed, the noon siren will continue to rise to its crescendo at noon each day, holding that piercing tone for a few seconds before slowly fading away for another 24 hours, marking the passage of another day.
Just not on Sundays.