Okay, I admit that’s a tortured way to get into a story about Blackfoot’s noon siren. At least I didn’t make references to Greek mythology and those alluring rocks.
Noon whistles were common in factory towns where it signaled a lunch break. Noon sirens served the same function. Both were once also used to summon volunteer firefighters to the station when needed, which was often not at noon.
Blackfoot’s use of a noon siren probably started in 1919. I found the following article in the September 19, 1919 edition of the (Blackfoot) Idaho Republican, headlined, Electric Siren for Noon Whistle.
“The electric siren installed by the fire department under leadership of Fire Chief Fred Simon, which is heard to lift its penetrating voice exactly at 12 o’clock of each day, is apparently meeting with satisfaction, and if no discouragers of the good idea get busy soon, Mr. Simon states that he will have the siren accepted.”
The headline implies that there might once have been a whistle in Blackfoot that the siren replaced.
The siren Blackfoot uses today is probably from the 50s. The controls are in a big orange box with a Civil Defense logo on it. The horns are on a water tower. If you’re curious what it sounds like, go to YouTube and search for Blackfoot Idaho siren. Be sure to turn the volume all the way up.
Blackfoot Fire Chief Kevin Gray says, “People live and die by it.” The automated siren sometimes gets off a bit when the station tests its generator. “We hear about it,” Gray says. “People go to lunch when they hear the noon whistle, and they come back by the clock. If the whistle is late they’ve missed a little lunch time.”
Occasional proposals to do away with the siren have been met with stiff citizen resistance, so the tradition continues.
There are probably several town where noon sirens are part of the community tradition. I’ve heard the one in Blackfoot off and on since the mid-50s. What community sirens do you know about?