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Don't Panic, Larkspur ... It's Only A Test

The volunteer fire department's old-fashioned air horn gets its voice back after years of silence. It's scheduled to sound the first Saturday of every month as a reminder of the city's history.

Larkspur added its own unofficial touch to Fleet Week in the Bay Area on Saturday. The siren might have startled the people enjoying a cup of coffee outside Emporio Rulli's on Magnolia Street, but there was no emergency.

The Larkspur Volunteer Fire Department revived the city's historic air horn, which was in regular use into the 1980s. The Larkspur City Council recommended that the department should sound the siren the first Saturday of every month at noon. Saturday was the first regularly scheduled of the horn.

The air horn was scheduled to sound three blasts, but went off only once.

"We'll have to look into the malfunction, see why it didn't follow with the other two blasts," said Larkspur Fire Chief Bob Sinnott.

Sinnott said the horn last sounded about 10 years ago, but has since fallen into disrepair.

"I remember when all the communities had horns. The only way to make sure they functioned was to blast them at noon and 5 p.m.," Sinnott recalled. "Ours was the last horn to sound."

The siren caught the City Council off guard during the Sept. 5 meeting when it sounded in the middle of discussions about another agenda item. It met with mixed reviews, some council members thought it sounded annoying, or was too loud, and others were fine with it.

If the siren was a little nerve-wracking Saturday, be thankful that it isn't a full re-creation of the old alarm.

"It was an important part of the early warning for firefighters. It was a signal for an elaborate box alarm system throughout the community before we all had cell phones. It served the community well," Sinnott said. "

"Early in my career, if there was a fire in Larkspur, we would activate the horn and it would go off 28 times. That brought volunteers and unpaid staff to the department."

It was said the air horn would sound several times, according to from which numbered signal box the alarm was coming. ... Which could be really annoying in the case of a false alarm, Sinnott admitted.

"Now we all have pagers, cell phones, etc., and the horn has become obsolete," Sinnott said.

Obsolete perhaps, but a piece of the city's history that some argue is worth maintaining.

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