Citing concerns over public safety, many local fire departments are opting out of a national call to honor the memories of the 26 people – 20 of whom were six and seven-year-old children – who died tragically in a Newtown elementary school last week at the hands a lone gunman. The peel of church bells and whirl of fire alarms going off over two dozen times, once for each victim, may confuse people and overload 911 circuits with calls.
The Suffolk County Department of Fire Rescue and Emergency Services sent a memo out to local departments alerting them of the planned memorial set for 9:45 a.m. on Friday.
With nerves already on edge as a result of the senseless murders and the area still recovering from super storm Sandy, local fire departments are saying they will not participate.
“There is some question of what the ramification might be,” said Frank Triolo, a secretary at the Terryville Fire Department.
He also pointed out the Mayan calendar prophecies floating around, saying that people might actually start to think it’s the end of the world.
As well intentioned as the idea might be, some see danger in suddenly sounding their alarms without warning.
Instead of its fire alarm, the Mt. Sinai Fire Department will be ringing a bell at the main firehouse on North Country Road. According to someone who answered the phone at the department, firemen will observe a moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. followed by the ringing of the bell 26 times at 9:45 a.m.
Out in East Hampton, Village Police Chief Jerry Larsen, who also heads up the village's communications department that dispatches for five of the fire departments in town, said he was opposed to the exercise because he felt it would cause panic and overwhelm the 911 system.
"I understand where the fire departments are coming from. It's honorable that they want to pay respect," Larsen said on Thursday afternoon. "If they were going to do something like this, they needed a lot more public notice than one day."
Joe Williams, the commissioner of Suffolk FRES, said his department is not advocating for the commemoration, but that the memo was sent out on behalf of fire departments that said they wanted to do it.
"We're not telling them to do it. We have no authority to tell them do it," Williams said.
"Naturally everybody is concerned," he said. They worry that people won't know what the sirens are for. He hoped the departments will spread the word. "I know for a fact that not every department is participating."
Port Jefferson Fire Department also said it would not be taking part.
Additional reporting on this article was done by Taylor Vecsey.
What would you think if on Friday morning you heard your local fire department’s alarm suddenly sounding multiple times in a row?