Sirens needed in southern Marengo County

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Most days, Brother John Coker’s jobs are to minister to his flock at Wesley Chapel Church, and volunteer as part of the South Marengo County Rescue Squad.

In the early morning hours of last November 25, however, he took on a new occupation, one he hopes he’s filled for the last time:

mobile weather siren.

With many residents still asleep and no tornado warning sirens established in the southern area of Marengo County where he lives, Brother Coker took it upon himself to warn his community of the impending danger.

After climbing into a retired fire truck obtained through his service with the Rescue Squad, Coker drove through the area with his sirens blazing, awaking and alerting those nearby.

“I felt there was no other way for them to know that storm was coming,” Coker said.

“Many of our citizens are retired and elderly, and they need something to let them know…when you hear that siren, you know there’s something bad going on.”

Coker awoke that morning to find the power off and stormy conditions outside.

After hearing the National Weather Service issue a tornado warning on the fire truck’s NOAA weather radio, Coker turned on his sirens and began driving.

Not long afterwards, he spotted a funnel cloud swirling over Highway 10, which he reported on his cell phone.

Undeterred, Coker continued driving through the winds and storm in his effort to get the word out.

“It felt like a blessing,” he said, “that you were up and could see what was going on.”

It is, however, one blessing Coker would prefer became unnecessary in the future.

“Our community needs some weather sirens, “he says, which is why Coker appeared before the Marengo County Commission on Tuesday to relate his story.

Richard Rogers, president of the South Marengo County Fire and Rescue Squad, also appealed for a siren system, noting that as many as five tornadoes have touched down in southern Marengo county in only the past two years.

However, funding for such a system may be hard to come by.

Although Emergency Management Agency director Kevin McKinney acknowledged to the Commission the need for sirens, he also added that a government “pot of gold” for siren funding was not currently available.

McKinney also cited a recent survey (also noted in the 11/25 edition of the Times) that put the cost of outfitting the entire county with sirens at the substantial sum of $600,000.

He did, however, suggest a “letter of intent” to begin a funding drive be drafted, and Commissioner Max Joiner, agreeing strongly with the need for a better warning system for the citizens of South Marengo, pledged to lobby the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs on behalf of the project.

Those sirens cannot arrive soon enough for Brother Coker, who already has a spot picked out near his church where he hopes to see one some day soon.

“From there you’d be able to hear it all the way from Pine Hill back to Dixon Mills and on back to Magnolia,” he says.

And as Brother Coker knows, a warning blast can make that trip in a lot less time

than a fire truck.