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Scanner listeners

March 30, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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ScannersScanner listeners

When a call for a two-alarm blaze at West End Market was reported at 1:45 a.m. Tuesday, a woman who lives in the building next door was able to get out of her first-floor apartment with her three dogs safely and alert the sleeping residents who live above her before firefighters even got to the scene.

Julia A. Smith, who lives 5 feet away from the market at 804 W. Washington St., heard the call over her scanner, which gave her plenty of time to round up her pets, notify her neighbors and evacuate her home.

Once outside, she watched as firefighters attacked the fire at the market and then concentrated their efforts on her wood-frame home, spraying water onto it with five hose lines.

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Her home survived, sustaining only minor water damage.

Smith is one of many in the Tri-State area who said they rely on scanners in their homes or places of business to stay informed of events as they happen.

Though scanners have long been considered necessary in the homes of volunteer firefighters or fire police to respond to calls, today's technology savvy, need-to-know society is using scanners more as an information tool.

"They're really nice to have in your home so you know what's going on around you," said Jim Loveless, 39, of Halfway.

Last Monday, Loveless said he heard a code gray call over his scanner at 6 a.m. and recognized the address as his grandmother's.

After hearing the call, he stayed close to the telephone, which rang soon after with the news from a family member that she had died.

Falling Waters, W.Va., resident Dotti Staubs, 54, had a similar experience.

Staubs said she happened to be at home when she heard an ambulance call over her scanner for a person with respiratory problems. The address given was her mother's in Western Maryland.

Staubs soon got on the telephone to round up her family, who met at the hospital.

"We would've had to wait for someone to go through the hospital records before we were contacted," she said.

Keeping tabs on family, friends and neighbors is a big reason people buy scanners.

Deborah Smith-Myers, 37, of Falling Waters, said she likes to keep her ears tuned to the airwaves when her 18-year-old daughter travels to Hagerstown.

"I listen to make sure nothing is going on in the area," she said.

Smithsburg resident Kathy Argo, 32, said her boyfriend's aunt, who is trained in CPR, will respond to an emergency call in the town to help out.

Many uses

Other scanner owners said they'll tune in if they hear a call about a vehicle accident to make sure a spouse or someone they know isn't involved.

Business owners keep scanners in their stores and offices so they can listen for armed robberies, descriptions of criminals or missing people, and other news.

Vacationers like to keep scanners on to give the impression someone is at home.

Single people, or those who may be home alone, find the voices on the scanner comforting.

"I love to know what's going on and it's company," said Kathryn "Becky" Norris, 76, of Rohrersville.

With one scanner placed in her bedroom and one in her dining room - neither of which are ever turned off - not much gets by Norris.

"I don't miss much. It's very entertaining," she said.

Some even use it as a tool to wind down at night, taking a portable scanner into the bedroom with them and listening to the constant banter as they drift off to sleep.

"I sleep with it on all the time," said Jack Leggett, 52, of Hagerstown.

Most who either keep scanners in their bedrooms or turn them up loud enough to hear them while they sleep, said it's no different than going to bed with a radio on and often they'll wake up if an important call comes over.

Formerly active in the local fire company, Leggett has had a scanner in his home for more than 15 years and it's never turned off.

"I like to hear all of the different things going on," he said.

Jacob "JV" Martin, 68, of Hagerstown, has to turn his scanner off at night to sleep.

"One of the first things you do in the morning is turn it on," he said.

A gift from his wife, Martin has had a scanner in his home for more than 22 years and remembers when he had to insert crystals to pick up frequencies.

Martinsburg, W.Va., resident Sabrina Styer, 26, said she grew up with a scanner in her family's home since her mother was a member of the fire department and ambulance squad. So it was natural for her to get one when she grew up and eventually got married.

"My husband couldn't stand it when we first got it," she said.

Styer represents a new generation of scanner owners who are buying the devices as quickly as manufacturers can sell them.

At least one scanner a day is sold out of the Radio Shack Outlet on Tandy Drive in Hagerstown, according to Terry Lowery, sales associate.

A sale at the store in the past two weeks has generated even more scanner purchases, averaging four or five a day, he said.

"Scanners that pick up everything are most popular," Lowery said.

Active curiosity

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