During the tornado which struck Kanawha in recent weeks, there were issues with emergency warning sirens in Garner, Crystal Lake, and Britt. These were not evident during the storm thanks to brave men and women who put a plan together in case they were needed.
Prior to the storm ravaging the area, emergency managers performed monthly testing on the sirens. According to Winnebago and Hancock County Emergency Management Coordinator Andy Buffington, there was a problem.
The affected cities such as Britt and Garner have little boxes on their siren poles which are old technology that allow for remote starting and stopping of the sirens from a central location. When communication to those failed, emergency management went to work.
According to Buffington, the tests were done at the beginning of March, but when the tornado struck in mid-April, the parts had not arrived to repair the remote start systems. It was then that the fire departments in Garner and Britt sprang into action.
Garner Fire Chief Jim Thiele got together a brave team of firefighters who would take on the 50 plus mile per hour winds, hail, and rain to warn the city and surrounding farmers of impending danger.
Thiele and his team monitored radio, television, and the internet for the latest developments. When the storm struck, the teams of two went out on metal step ladders in the driving wind, rain, hail and dangerous lightning, and manually fired the sirens. Meanwhile, other plans had been put in place according to Thiele.
Garner Mayor Tim Schmidt was working closely with the Garner Fire Department and emergency personnel.
Britt Fire Department Chief John Swenson also had teams going out and setting the alarms off manually.
In Swensons case, he backed his truck up to the alarm boxes instead of using a ladder in the torrid weather.
Future storms in the area may not need to have this extensive coordination regarding the sounding of civil defense sirens. Parts for the sirens’ remote starts have arrived and have been put in place.