By Tony E. Windsor

A former resident of North Carolina has expressed concerns about having to deal with what she feels is excessive incidents of noise caused by the sounding of the fire department siren. Nancy Hewitt, of West Street appeared before the Laurel Mayor and Council during its Tuesday, Jan. 16 public meeting and shared some requests one of which she said was on behalf of the entire town and the others for residents of West Street.

Hewitt, who was formerly employed by the town of Kure Beach, N.C., was Deputy Town Clerk. Kure Beach, just south of Wilmington, N.C., is part of Pleasure Island and is a beach community with a population of about 2,000 residents. 

She said she and her husband are happy about moving to Laurel, but have encountered a problem that she feels may have prevented them from moving to the area had they been aware. She requested that the town consider equipping fire department personnel with pagers as a means to decrease the number of times the emergency siren is activated by the Laurel Fire Department.

“Anyone living within five blocks of the fire station are subject to a constant barrage of loud siren blasts for emergencies during the day and in the middle of the night when they are trying to sleep. This really distracts from the peaceful atmosphere that the town is striving for. If my husband and I were aware of this we would not have moved here to this area,” she said.

Hewitt said in the community where she previously lived, the only time the siren was sounded was to alert to a hurricane, tornado, emergency water evacuation or a business being on fire. “These huge sirens are designed to be activated during town wide emergencies, not everyday emergencies,” she said. “When the siren sounds it should alert us to an emergency that affects the entire community and we should not take it lightly. It does not matter to the entire town about a traffic accident somewhere, or a neighboring community seeking the assistance of the fire department. Using the siren for everyday emergencies only disturbs us, and creates the feeling that the town is going to hell in a hand basket.”

Hewitt said she was told by a longtime Laurel resident that pagers were not used by the fire department because personnel who lived outside of town in rural areas may not be able to receive the pager signal. “If these personnel live in rural areas that are far away, I would question if they would be able to hear the fire siren, especially if they are sleeping or it is a windy day or night,” she said.

She went on to request that the town consider placing a 25-mile per hour, flashing sign along West Street, much like the one that has been placed along Central Avenue near the former North Laurel Elementary School building. “We have four times more traffic traveling along West Street compared to Central Avenue, plus we have heavy truck traffic as well,” she said. “The town should try to establish as truck bypass route to help with the truck traffic.

“For the sake of those people living on West Street, we well as those who reside on the side streets and are faced with trying to access West Street, we need the flashing signs. West Street is a very narrow street and we have a constant barrage of trucks and cars.”

Hewitt said she is aware that the large trucks coming down West Street are rarely traveling 25 miles per hour and often do speeds in excess of 35 miles per hour. She said in the interest of the safety of pedestrians, including school children, and protection of resident vehicles parked along the street, she urges the town to place the flashing 25 mile per hour signs to help make drivers aware of the speed limit. “If these signs work in the town of Blades, and if they work on Central Avenue and out along Route 24, here in Laurel, I believe they will work on West Street,” she said.

Hewitt said her last request is for the people who live, drive and walk through the West Street community during the Christmas holiday. “We would like the town to purchase for West Street those cute little Christmas pole lights that people on Central Avenue and Market Street get to enjoy. We have hundreds and hundreds of commuters coming up and down our narrow street during Christmas and wouldn’t it be nice for them to see the pretty lights as they travel? Plus we really do need a morale boost on the West side of the railroad tracks. We have been dealing with some really tough things. I know that Christmas lights are a very minor thing when we have had children dying, but I also think that children walking home from school would enjoy seeing the lights and knowing that we are not the red-headed step child. 

They would see that the town cares as much about the West side as it does for Central Avenue and other parts of the community. I am asking that we might at least get four lights, perhaps every other pole. It would be nice welcome for people coming into town and also for the people of West Street. It may seem trivial to you, but it would mean a lot to us to have the town put up these pretty lights during the most wonderful time of the year.”

Following the meeting, Town Manager Jamie Smith met with Hewitt and responded to her requests. Smith told her that in regards to the issue about the fire department’s emergency siren, and potential for individual pagers, this is an issue that Hewitt would need to address directly with the Laurel Fire Department. “The town cannot speak for the fire department,” Smith said.

Smith said in regard to truck traffic, the town has tried unsuccessfully for years to petition the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) for a truck bypass. “The town has tried since 1994 to obtain a truck bypass route and due to the requirements to obtain one, the town has been unsuccessful,” she said.

Smith said that West Street is being repaved and once that project concludes the town can investigate the flashing 25-miles-per hour signs. “I will reach out to Rep. [Tim] Dukes and Sen. [Bryant] Richardson about the possible funding of the signs, as they are extremely costly. We would also have to work with DelDOT to obtain permission for the installation of the signs,” she said.

Finally, Smith told Hewitt that providing additional Christmas lights on West Street is a matter of funding. “Christmas lights actually go down Townsend Street and a portion of West Sixth Street in the area of Dunbar [Elementary School].  As far as any additional lights, we would have to look at costs to see if it is something we could include in the budget,” she said. “The costs would also include the necessary electric hookups for the lights. We would also need to work with Delmarva Power for permission.  I cannot make a promise either way regarding lights.”