When kids in the Village of Saugerties hear a fire engine’s siren on Christmas Day, they know Santa is there with a packet of treats. For some village residents, the sound conjuress up negative associations.
This Christmas will mark the hundredth year of the firefighters handing out treats to children in the village on Christmas day.
For Katie Cokinos and her husband, Alex Rapport, the sound of the truck is an irritant. “Maybe we could discuss and maybe change some ideas on maybe celebrating Christmas day a little bit differently than hearing sirens all day,” Cokinos said at the regular meeting of the village board this Monday, December 3. “We are in the heart of the village, and we hear them all day on Christmas Day. For us, for many people, the sound of a siren means someone is in distress. It is cause for alarm.”
She’s upset because the sound of a fire alarm from a fire truck almost always means there’s someone in extreme need. “On Christmas Day, when we’re celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, maybe there’s a better sound,” she said. Bells or music would be more appropriate alternatives for Christmas.
Kids today are living in a world of greater trauma than a century ago, she said. “The sound of an alarm is not a peaceful way to celebrate such a holy day, and such a day that’s filled with family and being together,” Cokinos told the board.
Mayor William Murphy said that the matter had been discussed at a prior board meeting, “and I understand your concerns, but this is the first time, ever, that someone has complained about the sirens.”
Murphy said he had transmitted the concerns to the fire departments, and there has been some compromise. “We will have music, and the sirens will be curtailed to some extent, but as I pointed out, other fire departments …. I know my kids, they’re 16 and 18 now, but when they were younger they heard a siren and [they said] ‘Oh, Dad, the truck’s coming.’ That’s what kids know right now.”
Christmas is a holy day, people are in church, argued Cokinos, and she asked, “There’s really not another sound that can emanate from a truck giving chocolate?”
The sound of the Salvation Army’s bells outside a supermarket “calms me down, because it means giving,” Cokinos sdded.
When Cokinos first questioned the use of the siren, Murphy said, “I took it to the board, I took it to the fire department, I took it to many residents, and they all said, ‘What, Christmas Day without the sirens?” Cokinos said she has spoken to many people who would rather have a different sound, one that is like Christmas.
“You don’t need to know Santa’s blocks away, said Alex Rappoport, her husband. “You need to know when he’s out front.”
Trustee Don Hackett suggested that a petition would let the board see how many people agreed with Cokinos and would provide a basis for decision. “Get a petition together, bring it to the board. That’s the next step that I would take.”
First assistant fire chief Scott Campbell said the department had modified its Christmas procedure. Instead of a steady siren, firefighters will now press the button for the siren and release it, rather than having it sound continuously. “We’re also working on music,” he said.
Following the meeting, Cokinos said she’d be interested to hear what the fire alarms sounded like a century ago. She said that some people had not really thought about the sound, just taking it for granted as part of the tradition, until she mentioned it. “I love tradition, but the tradition at Christmas is giving, not the sound of sirens.”
She credited the village board with being willing to listen. In future years, she hoped the sirens would give way to other ways to let people know the firefighters – whom she praised for giving up their time on a holiday – were there.