CATSKILL — The Catskill Fire Company switched over to new high-band pagers Nov. 7, silencing the distinctive wail of the historic village fire alarm, probably for all time.
The upgrade is part of a multi-million-dollar countywide project that will increase coverage for firefighters.
Municipal fire departments have to purchase high-band radios and pagers, while Greene County Emergency Services upgraded its computer-aided dispatch system for $2.4 million and also upgraded the radio towers.
The project was funded in part by grants through the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
“Our pagers would trip 50 percent of the time on low-band,” Assistant Fire Chief Patrick McCulloch said. “High-band uses all the towers. Now they will trip no matter where we are.”
McCulloch has been able to use the new system in Albany, Ulster and Columbia counties, he said.
“It’s a hundred times better,” he said. “There are no dead spots.”
“It will be more reliable and require less manpower than the old system,” said William Lawrence, R-Cairo, chairman of the Greene County Legislature’s Public Safety Committee, said.
All members of the Catskill unit have been outfitted with the new pagers and the high-band radios have been ordered, McCulloch said.
“We ordered 60 pagers for $500 apiece and ordered radios for the chief’s patrol car and the firehouse itself,” he said, adding that the firehouse upgrade cost about $40,000.
The old siren will be switched on manually at low-band frequency the first Tuesday of each month between 6 and 7 p.m., when the firefighters meet, McCulloch said.
“It can be set off manually or by Catskill PD,” he said. “There is also an air horn top of village hall that can be set off.”
The siren has historical significance, McCulloch said.
“It was used as a civil defense siren for the village back in World War I or II,” he said.
The siren and the defunct air horn could also be heard each Saturday in the 1960s and 1970s at noon for weekly alarm tests for three village fire departments — Catskill, A.M. Osborn and Citizens Hose No. 5.
The air horn was converted several years ago into a sort of early-warning system for tornadoes and other major emergencies.
The switch marks the end of an era, Village President Vincent Seeley said.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “We have received complaints about the noise but also relied on it over the years for the safety of the people in the village.”
The new system will be beneficial not only to the firefighters but to the general public as well, McCulloch said.
“We get 400-plus calls each year and it would wake people up,” he said.
Whether other fire companies in the county decide to turn off their sirens as well will be up to the individual departments, McCulloch said, although all fire departments are required to make the upgrades to the new system.
“I know some companies don’t have pagers yet, whether it’s because of budget constraints or they just haven’t ordered them yet,” he said.
Emergency services has been operating in a dual dispatch method since early October, using both low-band and high-band frequency to accommodate those companies.
“We haven’t been given an exact cut-off date yet,” he said.