Crank-calling a volunteer fire department

Somebody must be crank-calling the Graton Fire Department out tonight. The siren has gone off a lot in this tiny community just north of Sebastopol in Sonoma County.

There’s a bonus with Graton Fire Department crank calls in that a siren goes off that can be heard over a wide area. Fire departments around here that still have sirens are few and far between. According to the Press Democrat earlier this year, “Fire officials said they need the alarm to summon volunteers because pager and cell phone service is spotty in parts of the west county, making such technology unreliable.”

That’s a little hard to buy. The terrain around Graton is simply not that spectacularly or uniquely difficult and certainly not by the standards of Sonoma County. If Occidental or Bodega or Bodega Bay, for instance, also had a siren, the argument might be a little more tenable. They don’t. The Press Democrat only mentions Kenwood as another community that still has an alarm.

But here’s West county Supervisor Efren Carrillo: “Personally, I think it is reminder of the volunteer effort that firefighters make.” The Graton Fire Department is a volunteer fire department, nearly as anachronistic in an increasingly urban society as the siren that neighbors complain about.

There are other things that are anachronistic in this increasingly urban society (even in Graton) that a volunteer fire department hearkens to, like a sense of community where people actually know their neighbors and talk to them once in a while. Like people who actually respond when their neighbors are in trouble, and not because they’re getting paid to do it, but because they actually care.

Of course that isn’t always the case. I dimly recall a while ago that a certain Graton firefighter was nearly always first on the scene for any actual fire. It turned out he was an arsonist.

But to draw Carrillo’s argument out, for the sense of duty that these volunteer fire fighters feel towards their community, the community should feel a reciprocal duty to honor these volunteers.

“Going off one or two times a day for 40 seconds is a small price to pay,” [Fire Chief Bill] Bullard said. “It is a necessary tool.”

In that context, complaining neighbors seem pretty petty and mean.

But tonight has been exceptional. I think the alarm has been sounded five times. If these are indeed crank calls, that says something pretty sad about somebody so alienated as to get their jollies at the expense not only of the community but especially of those who volunteer their services to save lives and people’s homes. And maybe the community ought to be reflecting on that as well.

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