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Fire chief douses Depoe Bay siren claims

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Scores of Worldmark Resort visitors ran for this rugged escape path (explored above by local resident Mike Walter) Jan. 2 when doomsday sirens wailed in Depoe Bay. The city council met Jan. 19 to probe the circumstances of the embarrassing event, which generated widespread news coverage and raised questions about the city’s use of air raid-style sirens for commonplace events. (Photo by Rick Beasley)
Scores of Worldmark Resort visitors ran for this rugged escape path (explored above by local resident Mike Walter) Jan. 2 when doomsday sirens wailed in Depoe Bay. The city council met Jan. 19 to probe the circumstances of the embarrassing event, which generated widespread news coverage and raised questions about the city’s use of air raid-style sirens for commonplace events. (Photo by Rick Beasley)

DEPOE BAY — After city officials rang in the New Year with the apocalyptic wail of five sirens that sent startled residents running for high ground, the local fire department was left to answer hundreds of calls and calm frayed nerves.

“It definitely caused chaos in the fire district because city offices were closed,” recalled Chief Bryan Daniels of the Jan. 2 incident where outgoing Mayor Robert Gambino triggered Depoe Bay’s emergency warning system at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning. “It put us in a predicament as people fled up Collins Street and Lillian Lane (local escape routes) and stayed there. We took the brunt of that activation.”

The fire chief’s terse comments came Jan. 19 during a special work session of the Depoe Bay City Council to probe the circumstances of the embarrassing event, which generated widespread news coverage and raised questions about the city’s use of air raid-style sirens for commonplace events. Under the pretext of a NOAA high-wind warning, it was the first time the sirens had been activated since being installed seven years ago.

Mayor Kathy Short made the inquiry one of her first priorities after taking office Jan. 6, presiding over a workshop that produced troubling revelations about the $185,000 warning system and raised questions about its future. Among the most startling disclosures was the years-long decline of relations between the city and the local fire district, separate entities that worked at odds to protect residents in recent years and have become “disconnected,” in the fire chief’s words.

One speaker noted the control device to activate the alarm system had been “passed back and forth three times” between city and fire officials over the years, “depending on who’s in charge.”

Summoned to explain what happened on Jan. 2 were members of an emergency warning system committee that wrote the handbook on siren use, including longtime civic volunteers Roy Hageman and Jack O’Brien. Ex-mayor Robert Gambino, the third member of the group, did not attend.

Hageman explained how the city decided to install sirens after the March 11, 2010 Japanese tsunami struck Depoe Bay with enough force to destroy a dock and wreak havoc in the city’s harbor. With funding from the city and the Siletz Tribe and assistance from Central Lincoln PUD for the poles, the city purchased a system capable of emitting a wide array of warnings and verbal messages. But interest in the system faded as the tsunami became a distant memory.

“The committee started putting a protocol together and got as far as 90 percent, but the administration changed and the emphasis went away,” recalled Hageman, who said the handbook wasn’t completed and approved by Mayor Gambino and the city council until 2019.

O’Brien acknowledged the sound of doomsday sirens has different meanings to different people. In Boston, where he grew up, he said the wailing meant “it’s time to go to lunch.” He defended the city’s decision to install sirens, however.

“Here in Depoe Bay we don’t have a police force, and we don’t have a city fire department,” he commented. “The city is basically responsible for keeping the citizens and the many visitors we get safe. In some ways it’s a crap shoot to say we’ve got a problem here and to let people know there’s a problem. On the other hand, if the city does nothing, that’s not good, either.”

Several city councilors commented on the incident, including Joyce King, who said she was among those who hurried to high ground amid the wailing. Another city councilor suggested the entire system be turned over to the fire department, an idea that Chief Daniels said he would think about as fire officials mull a future district-wide siren project.

Councilor Jerome Grant scoffed at the notion of setting off alarms for anything but “emergencies of the first order,” saying people “will stop listening if you do these warnings for every gale-force storm.”

Daniels agreed, exploding the city’s official position that emergency sirens can be used for a variety of events.

“When you hear sirens blare in other cities it’s to announce a tsunami,” Daniels said, rejecting the list of events that could trigger alarms in Depoe Bay, including winds, bank robberies and Amber alerts. “You’re doing a disservice to your citizens by having a similar tone and making it represent different warnings or activities.”

City Superintendent Brady Weidner also revealed that the equipment installed by American Signal Corporation doesn’t stand up well to the Oregon coast’s severe weather. The cash-strapped city recently ordered 24 new amplifiers at a cost of $1,000 each to replace components that have corroded. The failure of amplifiers resulted in a garbled message explaining the Jan. 2 sirens were for high winds, not a tsunami.

While there was an encouraging report from the city’s emergency communications director, Michael Dane, about a well-stocked emergency radio trailer, the future of the town’s siren system is up in the air. Mayor Short said the issue would be taken up at a future city council meeting.

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Rick Beasley
Rick Beasley
Rick Beasley is simple writer who collects sniper rifles for a hobby. He has worked for numerous newspapers throughout his many years in the news business, including his own, the Depoe Bay Beacon.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Well the fire department dosen’t care about depoe bay they ate trying to merge with North Lincoln fire and rescue who has nothing to do with the system set up in Lincoln city. They don’t care about the people that pay there wages only putting more of their friends on the department. Its bad for both departments.

  2. Still profiting on making up lies and destroying characters, Rick? Flat out lies! How can you get away with this?

    A few facts for folks, that Rick, conveniently leaves out of his journalistic waxing:

    The Depoe Bay Rural Fire Protection District is not affiliated with the City of Depoe Bay. It is a separate entity of its own. It does not have jurisdictional authority over the Depoe Bay City Council, nor would anyone truly believe that the city should be run by the Chief. The Chief is a figure head much like a mayor. The mayor never attempted to tell the fire chief how to run his department. That would, of course, be foolish. But the chief receives accolades for slamming the mayor and the city for utilizing a system that it (the city) spent years developing and designing. A system that the chief knows nothing about.

    Rick, you’re a sly one, you are. You cleverly state that the ex mayor did not attend. Attend? The ex mayor was not requested to be in attendance. Even you know that if the ex mayor attended as an audience member, it would sway the discussion and possibly cull some thought provoking ideas. The ex mayor chose not to attend as a member of the public, to allow more flexibility and prevent unnecessary animosity.

    Your ex mayor had been involved in the city governing for over eight consecutive years. With meetings at least twice a month, he had missed only two in that eight years. Your best friend on the council, for about four years, has missed an average of twelve to fifteen meetings per YEAR. Yeah, that shows real dedication. Keep throwing him those glowing accolades, Rick.

    The last interaction with the DBRFPD (fire dept) was the previous fire chief delivering the shared EWS satellite station to city hall and stating that the fire department wanted nothing to do with the system or alerting the citizenry of emergencies. That was a short three years ago, Rick. It stands to reason that the city wouldn’t think including the fire dept. in its reorganizing would be beneficial to anyone. But don’t mention that sort of stuff, Rick. It makes the whole story mundane, and really quite un newsworthy. Sort of like you quoting the chief as saying, “…..including wind, bank robberies and amber alerts”. Really Rick! He didn’t say that, and the system has never been intended to be used for such nonsense. In all of the publications that the city put out, bank robberies, and more atrociously claimed by you, winning Keno number announcements is pure nonsense, designed to spur your readers to assist you in your character assassinations.

    You’re like a cunning velociraptor, waiting in the bushes, to attack. You do it time and time again.

    Once again, this destroyed character, terrorist and psychopath (as stated by one of your supporters) is fed up. But, you will, of course, continue to sling your filth as far as it will go.

    Sleep well, Prevaricator

  3. Perhaps the temptation to press Depoe Bay’s version of the big red button became too much for the out-going mayor…after all, recall the Trump Derangement Syndrome hysteria regarding his access to the biggest red button of them all during his final days in office…no?

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