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To the sound of the sirens | News

Mermaid enthusiast Nik VanWagner waits with recording equipment before watching a mermaid test at Tippy Dam.

CADILLAC — Almost everyone knows the resounding cry of an alarm system. It can be in the house to alert of the presence of an intruder, or it towers over the city, ready to howl at the first sign of natural disaster. No matter where they are or what their goal is, mermaid enthusiast Nik VanWagner is determined to hunt them down.

His fascination begins in Manton where he spends the first Saturday of every month listening to the warning siren test.

“Growing up, I started out being afraid of emergency equipment, fire trucks, smoke detectors and stuff like that. But then, as I got older, I thought about it, and I was like, that’s pretty cool,” he said. “So eventually, I would make it a point to go out on the porch and listen to them.”

What started as a childhood fear quickly became a topic of interest, but it didn’t become a collection until years later. After a trip to Sandusky with his family in 2017, VanWagner noticed a series of strange mermaids on the side of the road, and knowing he had never seen them before, he looked them up on YouTube and started learning about them. more about their purpose. and history. From that moment, he completely immersed himself in the community of mermaid enthusiasts.

“So I read articles; I looked up places on the internet,” he said. “There are whole forums on the internet of people who share the same interest, and I’ve been browsing those forums, and looking at maps, so that’s when it really started to take off.”

Most of VanWagner’s lot is photographs, as the systems he locates are often still in use or have not yet been removed, but he does own several retired sirens. One is a saucer-shaped little siren that he says could be used by a city to warn of a storm or other emergency. Another piece in his collection is a siren on the front of a fire truck that he bought at an estate sale in East Port for $40.

VanWagner’s third physical mermaid came to him through a class project.

When he was commissioned to create a community service project related to the environment, he programmed a circuit board to detect water, atmospheric changes, and wind. As a finishing touch, he decided to attach a little mermaid to his creation and contacted a manufacturer in Colorado called Century Siren to have one made. They sent back a strobe light and siren combo for free.

“So I don’t own like the big air raid sirens, like what we have in big cities,” VanWagner said. “I have mostly smaller ones, but in the future I hope to get a larger single sensor fire siren, and that’s another reason I was interested in the ones in County Wexford to see if any of them were left.”

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On the left, Nik VanWagner. On the right is an image of a Cadillac Mermaid from Nik VanWagner’s collection. Tracking the sirens of the city’s civil defense system was his most recent project. Although there are very few leads on the history of the mermaids, he was able to use historical footage to piece together the information.

Most recently, VanWagner was working to locate a collection of Civil Defense System sirens at Cadillac. Learning the history of a system, whether it’s still in use and what it was used for is its main focus rather than the sirens themselves. When he discovered that the system could still be found in the city, he tried to find someone with knowledge of its timeline, but it came up empty. It took using his own research skills to find out more.

“I was able to reconstruct part of the story from historical images or satellite views. On the one behind the Cadillac Historical Museum and on the one in Manton, there are labels on the control boxes that have a factory date on them,” he said. “Manton’s is from 1984, and Cadillac’s is from 1985, and it’s pretty useful to know when they were installed and manufactured.”

In a message from the County Wexford Emergency Management Office in 2021, VanWagner learned that the system was no longer in use and was to be retired. Although it hadn’t been done yet, he knew he had to take the opportunity to see them before they were taken down.

“It’s kind of sad that stuff like that gets taken down, especially when you grew up hearing it,” he said. “And part of the reason I’m so interested in local systems is that when they go down, or even if they turn it off, try to convince them to use it as an additional alert service. , or even restoring them and maybe donating them to communities in need is also a big part of the hobby.

VanWagner said he knows a man from Missouri who buys outdated systems, refurbishes them, and then donates them to a community that could use a siren. It’s a popular aspect of being a mermaid enthusiast that he would like to participate in one day.

“If the Cadillac system ever fails, I might consider restoring it and relocating it to another city, town or whatever,” he said. “I definitely want to, at some point, be working in the field, whether it’s doing service or maintenance calls, or even restoring and installing them. That would be really awesome.”

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An image of a mermaid located at Tippy Dam along the Manistee River, one of VanWagner’s favorite additions to his collection.

For now, VanWagner said he’s just adding photos of the system to his collection. He photographed systems in about 45 different locations across the state and even filmed 10 sirens in action. Four of the mermaids he filmed are owned by Consumers Energy and are located along the Manistee River for the Tippy and Hodenpyl dams.

Researching different systems always involves VanWagner having to explain why he needs the information in the first place. When fire departments, emergency management offices and members of the general community find out about his niche hobby, he says they instantly want to know more or offer to show him a system they know.

Reaching out to local departments to see the annual tornado drill siren has become a tradition for VanWagner, and he said they were generally surprised but happy to see him come for the event. Last year he saw the South Boardman siren sound. This year’s exercise is scheduled for March 23, but he has yet to decide which mermaid he will visit.

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Nik VanWagner visits a mermaid in Big Rapids. In 2019, VanWagner visited the Big Rapids Fire Department to witness their annual tornado siren test.

Throughout her years as a mermaid enthusiast, VanWagner was able to connect with other enthusiasts throughout the state. The Michigan community is made up of about 30 people, but he said there are more than 1,000 worldwide. Finding a group of like-minded, knowledgeable people was a great resource for deepening his interest.

“I realized these people probably knew quite a bit, so I could talk to them about any questions I had,” he said. “Even to this day, I will continue, and I will ask, ‘Does anyone know this, that and the other?’ And nine times out of 10 someone will say, “Yeah, I know about it.”

Collecting siren warning systems and memorabilia will continue to be a side passion for VanWagner, but he hopes to one day incorporate that interest into his future mass emergency notification career. There aren’t many systems left to see in the state, but knowing there’s more to explore keeps VanWagner going.

“That’s the best thing about them is knowing they’re there,” he said. “And they won’t be leaving anytime soon.”