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Your ears aren’t deceiving you, the Center Firehouse has a new whistle

Some complained about the noise. Others — the most vital of listeners, firefighters — couldn’t always hear it. But there are also those who just miss the old sound of the Shelter Island Center Firehouse signal that has now been replaced.

By law, the Fire Department is required to have operational pagers and fire whistles so if one fails, the other ensures firefighters will hear and be able to respond to emergencies, according to Fire Commissioner Larry Lechmanski. Failure to have a functional and audible signal could leave the Fire Department liable for not responding to an emergency in a timely way, he added.

The old whistle was put on the Center Firehouse in 1991, Commissioner Lechmanski said. It had failed a number of times and was being held together with plastic ties. Commissioners were told parts were no longer available to properly fix the unit. It was low, about the height of the building, and created noise for neighbors behind the firehouse, but often couldn’t be heard by firefighters in other areas. Commissioner Lechmanski said he could often hear a blast from the Heights Firehouse more than from the Center.

The new signal is high on the pole at the firehouse and can be heard for long distances by those anywhere within a 360 degree circumference as it rotates. But its signals are shorter, about 1.5 seconds long instead of 2 to 3 seconds, Commissioner Lechmanski said.

He noted that there are also signals at South Ferry and West Neck Road to ensure that firefighters anywhere on the Island can be alerted.

He recalls hearing about a time in the 1800s and early 1900s when a rope was pulled to work a signal at the Heights Firehouse that alerted firefighters to an emergency.

The new signal meets requirements and should be easier on the ears of those living close to the Center Firehouse, he said.

The sirens are now generated by electricity, replacing the old compressed air horns of years back that were designed to really get your attention. “They could knock you out of your shorts,” Commissioner Lechmanski told the Reporter a few years back.

In the old days, when the phone company had an office on the Island in the Heights, an operator would get an emergency call and sound the alarm. Department members would call for information and then whoever arrived at the firehouse first with the location of the emergency would write it on a blackboard for fellow firefighters coming in.

There were coded sirens at one point, something similar to Morse code, letting the citizen firefighter know the location of the emergency anywhere from the Heights to Ram Island.