Verona’s Emergency Numbers

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Fire broke out at a house on Morningside this past May, just as the Memorial Day parade was ending.

For many people in Verona, it is the chief annoyance of living in Verona: The horn. You know the one I mean. Oh sure, it’s quaint the way it blows at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., to mark the beginning and end of a day (yes, a day of an earlier era).

But confess. At least once in the time you have lived here, especially if you were in the center of town when the horn sounded, you have asked why we still need an air horn to tell the all-volunteer Verona Fire Department and the Rescue Squad that there is an emergency. And, in the case of the Fire Department, to tell them precisely where to respond. But when landlines fail under the weight of snow-covered phone lines and cell phones can be silenced by power outages, it’s nice to know that the horn still works.

“In emergency response, one of the key issues is communication,” says Jeff Hayes, Verona’s director of technology and a volunteer fire fighter. “If people don’t know there is trouble, how can they go help?”

Here’s how they know. Several decades ago, the town mapped out an emergency alert system based on Verona’s grid-like map. Each corner of town was assigned a number. That’s the first number you hear when the horn blows. One blast means the fire is roughly between F.N. Brown school and Bloomfield Avenue. Two puts the fire near Forest Avenue School, three is Brookdale and four is Laning. Five and six are for areas outside the center grid, respectively the north end of Grove Avenue and the streets east of Pompton Avenue, including the Claridge condo buildings and Pilgrim shopping plaza.

The next two numbers tell you the number of intersections east or west from Lakeside Avenue. The final number counts blocks north or south of Bloomfield Avenue. The whole thing is naturally amplified by Verona’s hills and valley topography. So when the horn blew 4-3-3 on Sunday afternoon, Verona’s volunteer firefighters knew to respond to Newman Avenue at the intersection of Hamilton Road, where a downed power line was turning the road surface into molten asphalt.

Verona is not the only town that uses an air horn system to marshal its first responders, and it hasn’t turned its back on newer technology. Every Fire Department and Rescue Squad volunteer is issued a two-way radio, and information is also sent out by text message. This summer, the town installed a second air horn system to alert people at Verona Pool and the Community Center fields that there is a threat of lightning.

And though Verona’s teens might not want to believe it, text messaging is not as fast or efficient as that belligerent horn. There are generally only three or four numbers to blast out with the horn and SMS messaging–as cell texts are called in the communications trade–are at the mercy of the carrier’s other traffic. “Text messages sometimes come five minutes after the horn,” says Hayes.

Normally, the horn isn’t used after 10 p.m. But sleep has been hard to come by for the Fire Department and Rescue Squad since the snow started falling, and the horn has been sounded well into the dark. Hayes, and Verona’s other volunteers, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I can be mowing the lawn and still hear the horn,” says Hayes. “I can’t say that of a cell phone. And if I ever need help, the horn reassures me that it is on the way.”

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].

12 COMMENTS

  1. When I was a child , we found a paper with the whole code deciphered! Every time the horns blew, I’d run, grab my sheet and I’d know where the action was! There was also the sound of 7 straight horns. I believe that was for the rescue squad. Just wished my dad would have allowed me to follow the horns…

  2. Lauren, you’re right: 7 was the old rescue squad code. They now use repeated 4s. I also discovered that there is code of repeated 2s that means that aid is needed in neighboring towns. That has blown once in the last few days, but I’m guessing that Verona had too much to deal with here at home.

  3. While new technology is great, we should never give up on our back up horns! Look how much they helped during this mess!

  4. As a volunteer for the rescue squad, I can tell you first hand that the horn is needed in times like this. Without power, my portable radio battery is only good for about 8 hours. Our normal shifts are 12 hours. The two way radio is the primary way we are dispatched by the Verona Police Department. If the battery is dead, I would have no way of knowing if I am needed to respond to a call for help. The back-up is to receive a text message telling us where the call is. Since the town’s internet is also down, they cannot send the text messages. For some of us, during a power outage, the horn is the only way we will know when we are needed.
    The fire department has been responding around the clock these past several days. The constant use of their radios shortens the battery life even further. By the time they get a break to allow them to charge the battery, it may be dead already.
    Yes, we all have chargers in our respective headquarters buildings so we are able to charge the radios when we are there. The VRS and VFD buildings as well as the police department all have generators to provide power. We also have chargers in our homes but they are useless without power.
    While I was trying to get a little sleep last night in between calls, it was nice to know that the horn can wake me in case my battery died before my shift was over. And wake me it did, for fire calls 3 times before we were called out for a rescue squad call at 4 am.
    So anyway, if you are reading this, you too can join us and volunteer a minimum of 6 hours per week with the Verona Rescue Squad. Call or text me for more information. My cell is 973-632-9562

  5. Thank you, Virginia!

    I was just wondering about this last night.

    Also, thanks for the great coverage MyVeronaNJ has provided during this Trick or Treat Snow-pocalypse.

    Keep up the good work!

  6. We are looking to move to Verona… we love the area. We have been warned about living to close to the alert siren or “horns”. Where exactly are these horns located? I googled about this and this info came up. Thanks in advance!

  7. Maura,

    We’re glad to hear that you’re thinking of moving here. The horn (it’s only one) is located on top of the town hall at 600 Bloomfield Avenue in the center of town. If you’re within a block or two of the center of town and have your windows open, the sound can seem loud at first. With windows closed, it’s pretty muffled, especially as you move farther away from town hall. Also it should be noted that Verona is not the kind of place where the horn goes off all day long. So come out, do your house-hunting and listen for it. We’re betting it won’t sound that loud at all.

    And please let us know if you have any other questions about Verona.

  8. Why does it have to go off every single morning and every single evening? How is this possibly necessary? While the article states “Verona is not the only town that uses an air horn system to marshal its first responders”, by far the majority don’t, and are able to function perfectly fine without it.

    When the horn was broken for a year and a half, everything was fine. Responders still got to their calls; the only difference was they did it without annoying residents having to listen to this loud awful noise every morning and every evening. Doesn’t this prove we don’t need it?

    Obviously it can be heard all over town, but it’s EXTREMELY loud when you’re near where it’s coming from – the center of town – by a school and library – the perfect place to scare the crap out of small kids and interrupt the school every day.

    To whoever is in charge of this – How do you justify still using this? How is this worth it? Why can’t we do what just about every other town does? Can we at least reduce the amount of times it goes off for no reason?

    Anyone else agree? Why don’t more people question this?

  9. Michael, I don’t know how long ago you posted your comment but I agree with you. I am a new resident of Verona and I did not know about this horn when purchasing a house here. If I had known I would not have considered Verona. The horn is too loud and annoying. I too don’t understand why residents do not speak up. People with homes close to the horn must be concerned about their property values. It seems to me the horn could be kept as a back up system in case other systems went down but it should not be the main system for summoning their volunteers.

  10. OMG! THIS THING IS SO ANNOYING! It wakes up my baby and I just want to destroy it every time. I had no idea what the noise was coming from. Also if its a test why do they have to ring over 5 times??????? Such a disturbance to every single resident of Verona.

  11. Welcome to Verona. Our Fire Department and Rescue Squad are staffed by volunteers and when there is an emergency they must be called to respond, or things burn down and people die. The horn has been modified substantially in recent years: We now use just two rounds of three blasts for the Rescue Squad and two rounds of 2-1-2 blasts for the Fire Department, so that these volunteers can then get further instruction on the emergency from their phones. And thanks to the work of the Rescue Squad chief who just stepped down, the squad once again has a fully staffed day shift of volunteers in its building, so there is less need to blow the horn during the day. A little bit of disturbance saves lives and property, and keeps Verona’s taxpayers from paying salary, benefits and pensions to permanent first responders.

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