A story floating around the Interweb caught my eye or perhaps ear. A neighborhood in our nation's capital is up in arms about noise pollution. They have even organized and named their group: Quiet D.C.
A look at the funny real, and not so real, stories from the fire service
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You might think, or hope, their effort is aimed at quieting those on Capital Hill. However, the objects of their anger are those unbearably loud fire trucks.
They are ruining these innocent people's American dream and very way of life. They are just too darn loud. One woman says her children wake up screaming from the demonic sirens.
I can only imagine these meetings.
"The chair recognizes Mr. Smith from Northwest 5th St."
"Yes, Madame Chairperson, last week at noon an ice cream truck went by playing a song on a loud speaker."
They probably don't have a gavel, far too noisy.
Now, before we busy ourselves bashing the residents of Washington, D.C., I have done a little nonscientific research and very easily found complaints like this all over the country — literally from New York to Denver to San Francisco and places in between.
I even found some guy on a public bulletin board threatening to shoot the siren atop a firehouse with a deer rifle. Whoa, calm down and eat a cheeseburger.
The overwhelming complaint seems to be the waking of children. As a parent who dealt with two infants back in the day, I appreciate the truly euphoric feeling that comes from a sleeping child. It's a nice break for all involved.
I grew up about 600 feet (as the crow flies) from the local firehouse. When there was a fire, a horn sounded atop the firehouse. Some places had a siren — a horn that blasted out the box number.
To say it was loud doesn't do it justice. The windows and plates in the cupboard rattled. There was no escaping it. Summer with the air conditioning blasting or in the winter with the windows sealed, you still heard it.
A siren's song
Yes, I was woken up many a night. However, it never occurred to me or my parental units to call the township and complain about that darn fire horn.
First of all, I was always interested in the fire response.
Secondly, I wrote it off because some poor schmuck's stuff was burning up or somebody was having a life-changing medical event and needed help. Compared to that, I could suffer through a few rounds of a Gamewell system then go back to sleep.
Fire sirens atop firehouses have been used for a long time. They date back to the day before home monitors or cell phones to summon the firefighters. Some places still use them. They also are used to back up modern wireless systems and devices and to warn of looming weather dangers.
The problem in D.C. are sirens and air horns from the apparatus. Parking has recently been allowed thus clogging up the street. Every time you see a new car commercial that boasts of a quiet interior, remember that means they can't hear sirens as well.
A question that I saw time and time again is: Do they have to run those sirens all the time? I suppose a fair question.
After the treaty was signed at Appomattox and I entered the fire academy, I was taught that on an emergency response the siren was used from the time we left the station to the time we arrived. That had something to do with the state law that basically said use all warning devices at all times.
The theory being if you were involved in a wreck, attorneys would ask if all warning devices were being used. I am sure laws vary from state to state, but attorneys asking such questions does not.
Naturally, as you suspected and probably feared, I have a solution.
A lot of places still give street and hydrant tests to assure personnel are knowledgeable on their districts. We can incorporate the addresses of sleeping children into this.
To take this one step further, why not use the whiz-bang technology we have available to us today. We can enter into the computer assisted dispatch databases the addresses of sleeping children.
Here's how it could play out.
"Chief 1, Engine 3, Engine 5 and Ladder 2 a reported house fire 103 Main St. at Maple Ave. Time 13:05. Be advised it is nap time for the Smith child at 665 Maple Ave.; all companies approach from Elm Ave. as an alternate."
I am sure the software companies could accommodate us. If you have computer-mapping software, these addresses could be input and appear on the map as a blue house or pink house depending on the sex of the toddler. So what if you have to go several blocks out of the way or zigzag to get there. No one has been woken up.
I would like to ask these people what if it was their house that was on fire. Except the guy with the deer rifle, I'm not going to mess with him.
Let me hear from you.
About the author
Will Wyatt, who is originally from New Orleans, has been in the fire service for 25 years. Will currently works as an engineer/operator at the Village Fire Department in the Houston, Texas, area. Will also works part time at another fire department and part time at a 911 emergency medical service. He has held numerous ranks with fire departments in the Houston area including full time training officer, fire marshal and deputy chief. Will holds a master fire fighter certification with the State of Texas, an instructor certification, pump operator certification, an associate degree from Houston Community College and a basic EMT certification. Recently will authored a book on the fire service entitled, "And a Paycheck, Too!" Check out an excerpt here. Contact Will at Will.Wyatt@firerescue1.com.
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David JeffersThursday, August 08, 2013 2:31:16 PMLove our air horn! So do the kids in town! Also it is a Great backup,in case radio comms go down,pagers don't work,etc....always have a plan B,C,D...right?
Bill DavisFriday, August 09, 2013 8:44:16 PMWe've had women call to say their husband was having a heart attack. Please come quick, but DON'T use your sirens.-------They must be the beneficerys.
Mike TragesserSaturday, August 10, 2013 2:03:51 AMOK here is the reality. When there IS a fire , OK, let the sirens blast away, even constantly, even though it does not get you to the scene much quicker. But you know very well that working fires are not the reason for the vast majority of obnoxious sirens. Lawyers be damned, people have to live their lives and hear themselves think without having all hell break lose for a 5 block radius every time some drunk decides to lay down for a nap, which in most big cities, is all day and all night long. Have a little bit of sensitivity. Don't crash into people, don't drive crazy, and you wil stilll get there. A siren on a clogged street is absolutely useless. Where will the cars go? Shut it down and wait. You don't need the siren blast just to wake up a drunk. You can quietly walk over and give them a little shake, can't you? The siren really doesn't prevent deaths. It only makes life in the city. for the living, less worth living.
Rob JimenezSaturday, August 10, 2013 8:58:31 AMmy only problem here is that although I agree regarding the practical use of sirens, in a litigious world such as in SF, as soon as the siren is NOT activated and someone runs into us, we will be on the chopping block. The sirens are only a symptom of a shitty EMS system. We could and should have Neils and his expanded program, a reasonable and trained dispatch center that is supported with CQI and little public education on the appropriate use of EMS. We could also save on the volume of siren noise by eliminating the dual engine dispatch by spending the insanely high sum of $53.12 to make the engines ALS. None of the ideas are going to fix everything but each one aggressively contributes to increasing the quality and credibility of our system. Sirens? Just a symptom. Fix the problem and the symptoms go away. Best to you Mike!
Michael A. LewisSaturday, August 10, 2013 12:50:16 PMWe don't use sirens at night time except when approaching a major intersection or intersection that have cars their already. We also reduce noise because some medical aids are classified as a code 2 response as are public assists. For alarm soundings the duty officer and first due engine goes code 3 while the 2nd due engine and any other units go code 2.
Doctah GeeThursday, August 15, 2013 9:30:29 PMHaha! "Be advised it is nap time for the Smith child at 665 Maple Ave." LMAO! Great article. I needed this.
Jonathan DructorThursday, August 15, 2013 9:56:32 PMIn the state of Tennessee back in 2001 a young lady named Vanessa K. Free that was involved in an killed in an MVA due to 2 Law Enforcement Officers going to a domestic call running emergency lights but no siren. Her mother Faught the legislation to pass a bill if an emergency apparatus runs lights an audible device will be used. When motorist can't hear or see the emergency vehicles someone will get hurt and the operators of that vehicle is the one that will pay the price be jail and/or prison & fines.
Cory GilbertThursday, August 15, 2013 11:11:33 PMI can't figure out if this is satire or for real, which is my way of saying that this was BRILLIANTLY written.
Mike WheatleyFriday, August 16, 2013 3:40:09 AMThose big diesel engines are loud too and they use alot of fuel. They need to use hybrid technology or even rechargeable 4 cylinder engines minimize noise and fuel consumption. Where is Big Al Gore when we need him?
Ken CreeleyFriday, August 16, 2013 4:55:00 AMI get so frustrated reading some of this.... I have a better solution.... Why use sirens at all. If your house is on fire, go get your own hose and put it out.. That way we won't have to disturb anyone and we can save the thousands we pay to have people on duty to help protect YOUR personal belongings. If you are having a medical emergency, take yourself to the hospital, but don't use your horn or anything because it might wake my child! I agree with using the sirens better, but geez... Get a grip!
Ethan M SmithFriday, August 16, 2013 5:30:01 AMI'm just going to make one quick point. For example my city runs a lot of "drunk people just laying down". But the matter of fact is, my engine is toned out for an unknown medical. Unknown medical. What exactly does that mean? As my guys and I take it, we treat it as a cardiac arrest or breathing difficulty. Why? Because we simply do not know what we have until we arrive on scene. It's easy for the public to sit back criticize us but until you step into our shoes for a shift. Then I suggest you sit back and hope that it's not your family we are running to.
Allen McCoyFriday, August 16, 2013 6:08:12 AMSafety Safety Safety sure it does not need to be blasted and especially the Q every moment of response.I ( as a 41 year veteran ) for one Advocate 300 feet before and into the intersection, 100 feet from behind a none yielding vehicle and lightly (short taps) in areas where children are known to play.
Geri Dorley KernFriday, August 16, 2013 6:28:13 AMI grew up with the "fire whistle" My dad is a volunteer fireman (over 40 years) and I'm a paramedic.... From what I understand (I moved to Houston years ago) they still use it.... It announces fires (for all those small town busybodies) and they still "test" it at noon and 1700 It was an alarm and mom never had to yell for you to come to dinner : ) Working in the 4th largest city in the US on a busy 911 ambulance, I'm not turning it off..... I don't run it in the subdivision (unlawfully, out of courtesy).... but I love me a phaser or an air horn MOVE! : )
Jim SiglerFriday, August 16, 2013 8:29:11 AMThe solution in THIS case is really quite simple. Shift any and ALL liability for a delayed response to the members of Quiet D.C. Problem solved.
Ted AdamsFriday, August 16, 2013 8:42:00 AMDear John Q. Public, with the exception of the young probies, especially in busy departments, I assure you that most firefighters would be just fine with not using their sirens all the time. After years and years of hearing it (all the way from the station to the scene, as opposed to the 5 or 10 seconds that you have to hear it), they are not using this emergency warning device just to be obnoxious. As has been evidenced by others here, sirens are used for safety. That included the safety of the firefighters and YOU. And to oversimplify the issue by implying that every run is one extreme or the other (burning house or sleeping drunk) is just ignorant. I concede that a large number of runs end up being less emergent than the initial information may have suggested. However, given the variety of calls to which the fire service responds (structure fires, car fires, water rescues, vehicle accidents, hazardous materials, fire alarms, mass casualty incidents, medicals, high angle rescues, confined space rescues, etc.), I assure you that a significant number of them are legitimate emergencies. I acknowledge that studies have shown that the use of lights and sirens only marginally improve response times. However, at the risk of sounding dramatic, for many of these urgent situations, seconds count. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say "what took you so long?" or "I called 20 minutes ago" (when in all reality, it took us 4 minutes to arrive, but tachipsychia tends to warp one's sense of time). This is when compassion and empathy enter the equation. When it's YOUR house on fire, or YOUR child who isn't breathing, or YOU are trapped in an upside down car, I promise you that you will love the sound of the sirens "disrupting" everyone's lives, while yours is possibly hanging in the balance. So, the next time that you want to complain about those noisy firefighters, especially in an official capacity, keep in mind, just as with everything else they do, there is a reason for it. So, in the future, instead of lodging your selfish, closed-minded, trivial complaints with your local government, it would be fantastic if you could quietly appreciate all that the emergency responders do for you and realize that they put their lives on the line every day, and every night for YOU.
Jp GarciaFriday, August 16, 2013 9:28:26 AMI don't think the people of DC will have to worry about the sounds of sirens too much longer as long as the Chief and the city keep allowing their fleet fall into such disrepair. There won't be any vehicles available to respond to the calls to wake up the children.
Doug Donner JrFriday, August 16, 2013 7:18:05 PMIf I'm woken up at 2AM, then Dam it, everyone is waking up! Well, not really. In the middle of the night, we use best judgment on conditions. At an intersection? Yes, rolling down the open road or thru a sub, not so much...
Brian CowanSaturday, August 17, 2013 3:22:50 PMMr. Tragresser - How long have you been a firefighter?
Selim GuadamuzMonday, August 19, 2013 10:15:18 AMwell said man, well said. Is just sad to see people only caring about themselves. I've seen and heard people complaining about the sirens, but I've also had the oportunity to see some of that same people in trouble, and how thankfull their are when you arrive quickly when they need it. But more important than fast or quick response, is that you arrived safely and able to provide assitance. As you stated, use of sirens is more a safety concern, than a tool to move vehicles and get faster to the scene.
Jonathan DructorTuesday, August 20, 2013 10:23:06 AMEugene Cavness this what I was talking about Sunday