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Every year about this time, Warren Fire Department assistant chief Fat Weston gathers up a few volunteer firefighters and sets out to decorate the streets of Warren for the holidays.
The ladder truck, electrical wire, staples guns and extension cords come out of storage, along with the long johns, coffee thermoses and wool socks. Firefighters run C9-style holiday lights up, down and across Main Street from the covered bridge, north to almost Route 100.
The lights are set on timers and come on at dusk each night, then shut off again sometime around midnight. "Against a snow-dusted Warren, they shine holiday cheer on all who walk, ride or drive through during the winter. Warren residents quietly put up with our loud Ladder-1 for a few days and donate $15 to $30 on their electrical bill to help light up the village," explained fire department spokesperson Steve Butcher.
This year, things are a little different. While the lights are hung in their usual places, connected to various residents' homes and strung between WCVT's telephone/cable wires and poles, the look and feel of the ornamental lights has changed.
"You see, for the last few years we have been researching the possibility of cost and energy savings by switching over to low-wattage LED Christmas lights. After calculating electrical costs, replacement of incandescent strings from breakage and burn-outs, as well as cost to the townspeople who graciously provide electrical outlets, we actually think we can save money (and 'help save the planet') by replacing all the strands with LED lights. The two-birds theory came into effect when we figured we wouldn't be smashing any more fragile incandescent bulbs on the pavement or ladders: the new LEDs are a heartier breed of adornment. The math was pretty simple," Butcher explained, and provided the following chart:
• Firefighters assumed the cost of product for both types of lights to be nearly equal
• Estimated life expectancy of LED bulbs = 100-plus years
• Assumed $0.15/kWh for electricity costs with 8 hours of light time/day
So, after consulting with the town administrator and the Warren Select Board, it was decided that this year was as good a year as any to convert. Weston was given approval to buy the new lights in November and the fire department just finished hanging them on Saturday, December 6.
"Now, you may notice the LED lights are different in a few ways from the old incandescent bulbs: they are considerably less bright, the colors are a little more subtle (no bright white bulbs), and there are more of them. We expect a few naysayers may mumble, "Why couldn't we just keep buying the old kind?" or "I liked them better when they were brighter." To them we simply say, look at the numbers. The waste is considerably less, electrical usage is 20x less per year, and light 'pollution,' if you can call holiday decorations pollution, has been significantly lowered," he continued.
"So, step out of your car on a chilly winter night and bask in the warmth under the Warren Village holiday decorations; not in the (lack of) heat generated by the new low-energy bulbs, but in the knowledge that many small moves can make a big difference in this world and starting somewhere is the most important move. Who knows, maybe instead of packing away your own lights next month, you will recycle them and buy some after-Christmas sales LEDs to put away in the closet for next year," Butcher said.
"All we are saying is give LEDs a chance," he concluded.