RICHMOND — The return of the Richmond fire horn after nearly 10 years of silence is music to the ears of some firefighters who see it as both a necessary public safety tool and a nostalgic blast from the past.

But some neighbors of the fire station — which is in a tightly packed in-town residential neighborhood — are not fans of being startled by at least daily blasts from the roof-mounted horn.

That the horn is loud is not in dispute.

It is. That’s the whole point of fire horns — to be heard.

But whether the blast of the 61-year-old horn is necessary and nostalgic, or just an irritating nuisance, depends upon the ears of the listener. It goes off around 6 p.m. every day as part of regular testing of the emergency communications system and again anytime firefighters are called out to respond to an emergency.

Dana Sullivan, a former longtime firefighter who served as fire chief in Richmond in the 1980s, helped his dad set the horn up in 1951 and helped get it going, again, about a month ago.

“Yes, it is necessary,” Sullivan said. “With trucks coming from every angle, at times, when that whistle goes off, it alerts people there is going to be emergency traffic headed that way, so they better watch out. Quite a few people have told me it’s good to hear it again. It’s good to know there’s a problem in town, so you’re aware.”

Sullivan noted that because the number of volunteer firefighters is down in many towns there is a greater need for firefighters in other towns such as Dresden and Bowdoinham to respond to help fight fires in Richmond, and vice versa. So, firetrucks could be coming from multiple directions, and people need to know they’re coming, he said.

Sullivan and Fire Chief Andrew Pierce said the horn is loud enough to be heard even in some rural parts of town, such as by Beedle Road and U.S. Route 201.

That makes it plenty loud in the neighborhood surrounding the Myrtle Street fire station, where the horn is perched up on the roof.

“The horn is unnecessary, offensive and intrusive,” said Patricia Royall, whose Myrtle Street home is directly across from the fire station. “Every time it goes off it upsets me, disrupts whatever I’m doing and startles my pets. The fire department got along just fine for nine years without using that offensive horn. The fireman all have pagers and I see no need to fix something that isn’t broken.”

Royall said the horn has disturbed her sense of peace and will decrease local real estate values.

The fire department is a good neighbor, Royall said, and, until the fire horn started blowing again, she hasn’t had a problem living next to it, sirens and lights included.

Royall’s neighbor, Monica Botti, has lived, with her husband, Blaise, about 50 feet from the fire station on Center Street since 1984. Botti said while she appreciates people are willing to volunteer for the fire department, the horn is too loud.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the horn just went off during emergencies, and not each night for testing as well, she said.

“On a regular basis, it’s a little aggravating,” she said. “I don’t understand why it is a necessity to do every day, that seems like overkill. Maybe back it down to once a week.”

Pierce said the horn is needed, even though most firefighters have pagers that notify them of emergencies, because those pagers don’t always work. And the horn alerts people within earshot to be on the lookout for emergency vehicles.

“It’s a safety issue,” Pierce said. “I know there are a few that don’t care for the loudness. Not to say they’ll get used to it, but I think they will. It is new to a lot of people, who have moved into town since it had stopped working. A lot of people, once they find out the reason for it, they’re OK with it.”

Pierce said the horn stopped working when some of the electronics failed. It sat unused until about a month and a half ago when volunteers including Sullivan, after months of tinkering with the old system and about $500 from the fire department’s budget, got it working again.

It uses the same large air tank that powered it before, which retired firefighters Les and Clayton Waltz kept and stored. Sullivan said volunteers worked from July into December to get it going again.

“There’s a lot of memories in it — some good, some bad,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan and Pierce noted the horn used to sound off much more frequently, as part of a system that told firefighters where a fire was by the number and types of horn blasts. It also used to blow every night at 9, for the town’s curfew.

“It blew at 9, twice, every night,” Sullivan said. “You knew when it went off you’d better head for home, or somebody would be looking for you.”

Pierce said there was some sentimentality involved in the decision to bring the horn back.

“A lot of nostalgia goes with it, a lot of people in town tell me they missed it,” he said. “I loved hearing it.”

Jim Margetts lives near the station on Myrtle Street and said while he certainly hears the horn, it doesn’t really bother him. But it did jolt him pretty good once or twice when it went off around 2 a.m.

“It kind of shook the dogs up the first couple of times, but I don’t have a problem with it,” he said. “Yes, it’s loud. But I’d much rather make sure kids and everyone around here know there’s a fire, that there will be fire trucks coming down the street.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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