It took extra effort to trigger the emergency sirens that warned residents in three northern Iowa towns when a storm system rolled through that produced a tornado that hit nearby Kanawha earlier this month.

Testing in March revealed the sirens in Britt, Crystal Lake and Garner couldn’t be started remotely and replacement parts hadn’t arrived. Garner Fire Chief Jim Thiele says it meant in the midst of gusty winds, and the threat of incoming hail and rain and lightning, fire fighters had to get to the boxes on three poles in Garner to turn on the sirens.

“We just assigned fire fighters to do that, groups of two,” he says, “because it took a step ladder to get to them.”

The warning sirens — and the ferocity of the storm — prompted about 20 people to take shelter in the Garner City Hall. John Swenson, the chief of the fire department in Britt, faced the same issue with storm sirens that had to be manually triggered.

“We had two different groups of people that went two different ways and opened up the compartments and pushed the buttons,” Swenson says.

Swenson’s team didn’t use a ladder, though. The fire chief backed his truck up to the siren pole, so it could be used as the platform to get to the trigger box. The new remote starters for the sirens in Britt, Garner and Crystal Lake arrived after the storm and have been installed for the next time there’s reason to sound the alarm that a storm is approaching.

According to the National Weather Service, the tornado that hit Kanawha on April 12 was on the ground for a mile.

(By A.J. Taylor, KIOW, Forest City)