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MEEKER | Every day at noon, Meeker residents hear the siren from our local firefighting station. Why does it ring at noon? No one seems to be exactly sure, but it is a long-held tradition reminding locals that it is lunch time and testing the viability of the alarm system.
Longtime residents like my husband recall hearing the noon siren from their childhood days so this sound can boast a long history in the Meeker community.
When the siren sounds at other times, the Rio Blanco County Sheriff’s Communication Center is summoning firefighters. Additionally, responders are contacted via texts, calls, and pages.
When a fire erupts, the first goal is to get on it as quickly as possible, thus the sirens. As responders get on site and can assess the situation, they have more opportunity to deploy staff using a variety of communication resources. I translate the sirens as a “come right now” message and also an alert to the community that an emergency is underway.
Before today’s modern siren, a bell behind the Hugus Building summoned firefighters who in early days did not even have a truck so trudged out to fires carrying a hose, according to retired firefighter Bob Ruckman, who served in Meeker for 40 years. He told me many of the retail merchants back in the day also served as volunteer fire fighters to protect the town of Meeker.
Multiple sirens in one day do not necessarily mean more fires, but “more help needed.” Firefighter Ruckman recalls hearing the siren sound off endlessly for help during the devastating Storm King fire of 1994 in which 14 firefighters perished just outside of Glenwood Springs. Meeker firefighters were already swamped with local fires and could not lend assistance.
Originally established in 1993, the current Rio Blanco Fire Protection is a merger of the volunteer fire department and the Meeker Ambulance Service. Led by Chief Luke Pelloni, the crews cover some 1,940 square miles and around 2,700 people.
Fighting fires has long depended on volunteers. Here in Meeker, we have 35 volunteers including EMT’s (Emergency Medical Technicians) who are responsible for fire, rescue, and EMS. Chief Pelloni would like to thank the businesses that let volunteers leave work to respond to emergencies if possible.
Chief Pelloni reminds the public that when you hear sirens, please give right of way to first responders, including firetrucks and ambulances. When roads are closed due to fires, the purpose is for firefighter safety and to give all responders plus their equipment a clear path to their assignment. Please avoid clogging the roads to watch fires.
Again in 2020, Rio Blanco County is having a surge in wildfires. As of this writing some eight fires were active, stretching our local response teams to call in more help. A highly disciplined system determines when fires have grown beyond local capabilities and thus escalate to higher levels of resources and management.
On the one hand, when you hear the noon siren, it is sort of a “all is well” signal. Sadly, when local fires are underway and the siren rings many times, it means emergency situations and a tough battle for all.
Thank you to current Chief Luke Pelloni and retired firefighter Bob Ruckman for contributing to this article.
Upcoming are more articles about the Sounds of Meeker including the St. James Episcopal Church carillon and other sounds heard daily.
By KAYE SULLIVAN | Special to the Herald Times