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Firefighters protest siren ban Despite disappointment, they obey rule during parade on day honoring their bravery

For an event that is supposed to be quiet, the Firefighters Day Parade at the Erie County Fair is generating a lot of noise.

Unhappy with a recent decision that bars them from blowing their sirens and air horns -- and bars them from returning the next year if they do -- firefighters have taken to Facebook to plead their case.

"We Want Sirens at the Fair," a Facebook group, has dozens of postings railing against the rule. Most have been made in the past two weeks, although some date back to 2009.

"LETS MAKE SOME NOISE I CANT HEAR YA!!" was posted Friday afternoon.

But Friday night, the firefighters abided by the rules and remained relatively quiet.

Firefighters Day is a decades-old tradition at the Erie County Fair, but part of the celebration has grown quieter in recent years.

On this special day, which was observed Friday, admission to the fairgrounds is waived for members of Erie County's 94 volunteer fire departments and their auxiliaries. Annual awards are given out at a ceremony and there's a parade around the racetrack in the evening, when many departments show off their new fire trucks.

But for the past several years, firefighters have been told they are not allowed to activate their sirens and air horns during the parade. The rules were issued by the Erie County Volunteer Firemen's Association, which organizes Firefighters Day.

"Although the firefighters and kids get a kick out of hearing the sirens blow, we're here as guests to the fair and want to stay in good relations with them.

There are several reasons for the no-sirens rule, according to Brian Donohue, the association's president, including complaints from spectators and the people who show animals at the fair.

"It could potentially be a major problem," said Jill Bergstressor, a horse trainer from Oswego. "If one of the horses were to get scared enough to stress them, it could be a major thing and a great liability."

Like Bergstressor, horse owner Marilyn Eaves of Branchport agreed that anything done to minimize the stress is a good thing. They were both adamant that while they support the firefighters and the fair, they think it is just safer not to blow the sirens.

"The fair is looking out for everyone here," said dairy farmer Barry Flansburg of Albion. "I commend them for that."

In addition, the noise could drown out the sirens of emergency vehicles responding to an actual emergency on fair grounds, Donohue said.

The parade typically features 25 to 35 fire trucks, Donohue said.

"When they're all blowing their sirens and air horns non-stop it's deafening," he added.

All volunteer fire departments were invited to the meeting several years ago, when the issue was debated, Donohue said; only six or seven people showed up.

"Our committee decided, at the end of the day, we were going to have a silent parade," Donohue said.

Some firefighters and their supporters aren't taking it quietly.

"I missed using the siren last year. I felt like I was in a funeral procession," anotherFacebook correspondent wrote. "I have been driving our truck in the parade for at least the last eight-plus years and that was the worst thing I had to do -- not use the siren or air horn."

"It stinks," said John Wilger, chief of the West Falls Volunteer Fire Company. "We didn't bring the truck because of it and part of the fun is showing off the truck. For years it was never an issue."

Capt. Lindsey Lobur of Windom Fire Company echoed that sentiment, saying it's just not a parade without lights and sirens.

Fire companies that activate their sirens during the parade are barred from participating in it the following year, Donohue said. Since the rule took effect, five companies have been banned for one year, he added.

"Since we've instituted the policy, we have no complaints," Donohue said.

News Staff Reporter Janice L. Habuda contributed to this report.