Lake Cowichan Fire Department’s siren will be hushed overnight but council is not sure when it will start. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Lake Cowichan Fire Department’s siren will be hushed overnight but council is not sure when it will start. (Kevin Rothbauer/Gazette)

Lake Cowichan council votes to silence the town’s fire siren overnight

Mother’s letter about her child struggling with the noise spurs action

Lake Cowichan town council has voted to take steps to silence the town’s fire siren between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. following a recent letter from Lake Cowichan mother Mishayla Vandenheuvel that reignited an ongoing debate.

In her May 6 email to council, Vandenheuvel explained the siren “causes undue stress on child and parent alike,” particularly for parents with children on the autism spectrum. These children can experience breakdowns upon hearing the siren.

“It has repeatedly awoken my son to the point that he has lacked in sleep which I’m sure you know is vital to development,” she wrote. “He has also developed a fear of it from which he is inconsolable for upwards of 20 minutes or more every time. I was hoping he would grow out of it but unfortunately it’s gotten worse.”

Vandenheuvel said she understands the purpose of the siren was four-fold:

That it’s been around a long time and many want to keep it; that it’s so volunteers can be alerted of an emergency; that townsfolk can be aware that emergency vehicles will be passing through; and also so people can turn off their water if there is a fire, making more available to firefighters.

“Times have changed and this town needs to change with it,” she said. “Just because it has been around for a long time doesn’t mean it works for everyone.”

Vandenheuvel added that first responders “should be available to contact at all times without the use of a siren”.

At their May 24 council meeting, Coun. Tim McGonigle said the issue isn’t new to council.

“I know that this isn’t the first time that this has come up and we’ve discussed ways to mitigate this,” he said. “The recommendation was brought forward earlier about eliminating it during the nighttime hours. That will not appease some people but at least it will be a starting point to move forward from. I look forward to the recommendation coming into effect.”

McGonigle went on to explain that the siren system was the way to summon the volunteer members for a call-out before the advent of pagers and cell phones and the like.

“I’m fine that this is an antiquated system but it does, in the summertime, inform residents that are perhaps sprinkling or watering, that they should conserve that for the use of fire suppression at that time.”

Council then voted on a staff recommendation “that until a new timer system for sirens can be implemented the current system of fire siren notification should remain in place; and that serious consideration should be given at that time to eliminating the use of the siren between the hours of 10 p.m. each night and 7 a.m. the next morning, with the sirens when used should only be sounded for shorter durations.”

Council didn’t have a firm date on when the siren would be silenced overnight, as there is a system upgrade in the works along with the town hall renovation and a timeline hasn’t been sent to council.

“Hopefully we will get back to the letter writer letting her know we have had this on the agenda and we have dealt with it,” chair Carolyne Austin said.

Lake Cowichan