Tuesday, December 04, 2012

the sound of sirens

I don't know if it still does, but as I was growing up in Holmfirth the Fire Station there had a siren that was set off to call the firemen (and yes I mean firemen, I don't think female firefighters had arrived on the scene back then, certainly not in Holmfirth anyway) in in the event of a call out. There were some firemen based at the station full time, all of whom I knew at least by sight and some by name after doing my Guides firefighters badge. I walked past the station every day on my way home from High School and always got a wave from whoever was on duty.

When I moved to Kaitaia coming up for 6yrs ago it was the first time I'd lived within earshot of a station siren since I was 17, and still it reminds me of Holmfirth when I hear it go off. It also reminds me though of old newsreels and period dramas etc with the air-raid sirens, especially with the slightly eery tailing off at the end. There is talk of using them as tsunami warning sirens in various flood-prone areas as part of the Civil Defence system here, but they'd somehow have to make their sirens sound different or most people wouldn't react until the fourth round of it as up to three (which means all three engines are needed) is considered normal!

Since moving into town last year I've become far more aware of the siren, mainly from being 8km closer to it - we also hear more of the sirens of the various emergency response vehicles that can set off around the same time, sometimes followed by the sound of the air ambulance/rescue helicopter coming in over our street (and kindergarten) to the hospital to whisk serious cases off to the better resourced Whangerei or even Auckland hospitals. After an instance of hearing the full set we're usually pouring over the next edition of the local rag to find out what happened if we haven't already heard on the small town grapevine.

The station siren usually causes great excitement at kindergarten as it means there is the possibility of a fire engine going past or even better the helicopter. In some ways I suppose it is good that the children don't yet associate those sounds with sadness, injury, death and destruction, but when the siren blows for the third time, or has gone off on several separate occasions during the day, it is hard to acknowledge their enthusiasm. I for one am extremely grateful for those prepared to put their lives on the line to respond to the call and even if briefly hold those heading off in the light along with whoever is at the other end needing help.

The siren went off again tonight, twice, and was what prompted me to get around to writing this. Somehow it going off in the dark always sends a shudder down my spine, maybe it is the air-raid association and too many books and tv programmes like Carrie's War and The Machine Gunners... whatever the reason I hope everyone out there is ok.

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