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Colfax public safety committee recommending new warning siren

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  The Colfax Village Board’s public safety committee is recommending that the village board include a new warning siren in the 2015 budget at a cost of around $22,000.

The public safety committee met August 18 to discuss the warning siren and the 2015 rescue squad budget for the August 26 annual meeting of the Colfax Rescue Squad.

When the Colfax Fire Department moved into the new fire station on county Highway M, the warning siren remained behind the old fire station, noted Don Knutson, director of the Colfax Rescue Squad.

Cedar Country Cooperative purchased the old fire station and the former rescue squad building, so now the warning siren is located on private property, and the controls are inside of a private business, he said.

If public safety personnel need to activate the siren or check on it outside of normal business hours, they have to go through two locked doors, one door into the business, and then through a second locked door to get to the warning siren controls, Knutson said, noting that he does not have a key to the inside door for the control area.

In addition, the warning siren has been working on a “hit or miss” basis. The warning siren is supposed to go off every day at noon as a test for the siren, but sometimes it does and sometimes it does not, Knutson said.

Annie Schieber, village trustee and a member of the public safety committee, wondered about the reliability of the warning siren during severe thunderstorms or tornados.

Federal Signal Corporation inspected the warning siren last week and said at the very least, the pager for the siren should be replaced but really recommended replacing the siren, Knutson said.

The existing siren is 25 years old, and the average lifespan of warning sirens is 30 years, he said.

Cracked pole

The pole on which the warning siren is mounted also has significant cracks in it.

Knutson said he called Xcel Energy and Dunn Energy to ask about the expected lifespan of poles and was told they are expected to last anywhere from 30 to 100 years.

Since the existing pole is 26 years old and has deep cracks in it, representatives from Xcel Energy and Dunn Energy said the lifespan of the pole would be shorter rather than longer, he said.

Replacing the 60-foot pole would cost about $700. Moving the controls to the siren pole would cost $3,800. And moving the existing siren to the rescue squad building and installing the controls inside the rescue squad station would cost $8,600, Knutson said.

After spending money to move the controls or move the warning siren to the rescue squad building, the warning siren would still be 25 years old and nearly at the end of its useful life, Knutson said.

The existing siren also does not have a battery back-up in the event that the electricity should go out, he said.

A new warning siren installed at the rescue squad building would have battery back-up and also the generator as a back-up, Knutson said.

Over the last 25 years, the village has invested no money in the siren, he said.

Mark Halpin, chair of the public safety committee, said he liked the idea of the siren being located at the rescue squad building and that village personnel would always have access to it.

Knutson said he would take responsibility for the daily testing of the siren.

“The mechanics (at Cedar Country Cooperative) want it out of there,” he said.

Federal Signal said that putting the warning siren in front of the Colfax Rescue Squad building “would be the perfect spot for it,” Knutson said.

“There is no guarantee how long (the old warning siren) will last,” he said.

2015 budget

Knutson recommended that the village put a new warning siren into the 2015 budget and to install the new siren next spring.

If the village placed the order for the siren this fall, Colfax “would be on the list for first thing in the spring,” he noted.

Halpin suggested that Knutson attend the August 25 Colfax Village Board meeting and present the information about the existing siren and a new siren.

If the existing siren is not working properly, it is important to have a siren that works, Halpin said.

“I do not want someone hurt or killed if the siren does not go off,” Knutson said.

As long as the village board is working on the 2015 budget, the village trustees may as well consider putting a new siren into the budget, said Jackie Ponto, village administrator-clerk-treasurer.

No federal grant money is available for a warning siren, but the village could perhaps consider applying to the Otto Bremer Foundation, Knutson said.

In addition to recommending that the village board include a warning siren in the 2015 budget, the public safety committee also asked Knutson to check with other companies on prices for a new warning siren.

Federal Signal has been in business since before World War II and has always been good to work with, Knutson said, adding that he was perfectly willing to check with other companies as well.