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Firehouse Funnies
by Will Wyatt

Hush, you'll wake the children

Noisy fire trucks are ruining the neighborhood's serenity, but I have a solution

By Will Wyatt

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.

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.

Wide-spread panic
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.

Magic solution
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 about 30 years. Will is a captain at the Village Fire Department in the Houston 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, and an associate degree from Houston Community College. Recently will authored a book on the fire service entitled, "And a Paycheck, Too!" Check out an excerpt here. Contact Will at

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David Jeffers David Jeffers Thursday, August 08, 2013 2:31:16 PM Love 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 Davis Bill Davis Friday, August 09, 2013 8:44:16 PM We'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 Tragesser Mike Tragesser Saturday, August 10, 2013 2:03:51 AM OK 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 Jimenez Rob Jimenez Saturday, August 10, 2013 8:58:31 AM my 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. Lewis Michael A. Lewis Saturday, August 10, 2013 12:50:16 PM We 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 Gee Doctah Gee Thursday, August 15, 2013 9:30:29 PM Haha! "Be advised it is nap time for the Smith child at 665 Maple Ave." LMAO! Great article. I needed this.
Daniel Friend Daniel Friend Thursday, August 15, 2013 9:33:02 PM RIGHT ON!
Jonathan Dructor Jonathan Dructor Thursday, August 15, 2013 9:56:32 PM In 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 G Ekern Cory G Ekern Thursday, August 15, 2013 11:11:33 PM I can't figure out if this is satire or for real, which is my way of saying that this was BRILLIANTLY written.
Tim Bixler Tim Bixler Friday, August 16, 2013 12:21:23 AM OMG!
Mike Wheatley Mike Wheatley Friday, August 16, 2013 3:40:09 AM Those 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 Creeley Ken Creeley Friday, August 16, 2013 4:55:00 AM I 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 Smith Ethan M Smith Friday, August 16, 2013 5:30:01 AM I'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 McCoy Allen McCoy Friday, August 16, 2013 6:08:12 AM Safety 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 Kern Geri Dorley Kern Friday, August 16, 2013 6:28:13 AM I 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 Sigler Jim Sigler Friday, August 16, 2013 8:29:11 AM The 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 Adams Ted Adams Friday, August 16, 2013 8:42:00 AM Dear 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 Garcia Jp Garcia Friday, August 16, 2013 9:28:26 AM I 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 Jr Doug Donner Jr Friday, August 16, 2013 7:18:05 PM If 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 Cowan Brian Cowan Saturday, August 17, 2013 3:22:50 PM Mr. Tragresser - How long have you been a firefighter?
Selim Guadamuz Selim Guadamuz Monday, August 19, 2013 10:15:18 AM well 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 Dructor Jonathan Dructor Tuesday, August 20, 2013 10:23:06 AM Eugene Cavness this what I was talking about Sunday
Evan Boudreau Evan Boudreau Wednesday, July 16, 2014 5:33:03 AM That dispatch system should mark the complainers homes. When time comes to respond there and it takes us forever to get there because we are complying with all their bs demands, what will they say then? We should have used sirens for "your" house?
Evan Boudreau Evan Boudreau Wednesday, July 16, 2014 5:34:40 AM I run lights and sirens from the time I leave the station until I arrive on scene just to let people know we're workin.
Paul Knierman Paul Knierman Wednesday, July 16, 2014 6:00:32 AM Part of the problem is respect. If the emergency is not about them then they don't want to be bothered.
Terrance Williams Terrance Williams Wednesday, July 16, 2014 6:56:01 AM Lights,sirens and horns are apart of the apparatus for a reason and should be used when responding to an emergency.How do you expect someone to notice if an emergency vehicle is responding to a run?It's important to use to warn motorist to yield to the vehicle,and to signify that an emergency vehicle was summoned.It also lets the public now that help is on the way.
Phillip Wilkerson Phillip Wilkerson Wednesday, July 16, 2014 7:14:52 AM Come on people. The lights sirens. And every thing else. Is for. The publics safety. You wouldn't complain if it was your house. On fire. Or. Car you was. Trapped. In. So saying that. Stop. Nick picking all the little bull shit items that mean nothing cause you done lost a couple hoes asleep. And focus on the real take at hand which is everyone's safety
Chris Mowan Chris Mowan Wednesday, July 16, 2014 7:27:22 AM The fact is that you don't know if it is simply a drunk or if the person is having a diabetic episode. The simple fact that you posted this just makes you nieve
Matt Festoff Matt Festoff Wednesday, July 16, 2014 8:48:36 AM I think the point is that you don't need to be blasting the main siren in a small neighborhood when no cars are around..code 2 is enough when in small residential if cars are around a simple Federal or whellin chirp is enough.
Stephen Pentelei-Molnar Stephen Pentelei-Molnar Wednesday, July 16, 2014 11:48:47 AM HAHAAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA....brilliant....
Richard Fugate Richard Fugate Wednesday, July 16, 2014 1:26:51 PM You know that may work for big cities but wouldn't for small community fire Dept cause no matter which way you go noise still travels
Kevin Ticino Kevin Ticino Wednesday, July 16, 2014 3:27:21 PM It is people that don't care about the fire fighter and their safety but when their house is no fire and it takes to long to get their than they say what took so longe to get here
Logan Maybe Logan Maybe Wednesday, July 16, 2014 3:35:25 PM It's kind of disgusting. I'm ashamed of the whiny ass cry baby country I live in. People need to "man up" and quit being such little b!7?3$
Jay Wright Jay Wright Wednesday, July 16, 2014 4:20:38 PM If it was their child that was choking, in cardiac arrest, or would they want the units to run emergent (lights and sirens)? I'm sorry, but this is ridiculous and over stepping boundaries. In my opinion, any time a unit is running emergent response, somebody's life is on the line and minutes, even seconds count. There are enough distracted drivers on the road today without us having to "tone it down" or "don't wind out the Q". Let us do our jobs..
Keith Long Keith Long Wednesday, July 16, 2014 4:56:25 PM Smh. No one told them to move to DC and near a fire house. Oh well. This is the city people. WTF
Kena Curley Kena Curley Wednesday, July 16, 2014 5:45:06 PM I guess people should die while children take a nap really.
Cp Hsia Cp Hsia Wednesday, July 16, 2014 7:01:58 PM are E5 and M5 still not allowed to use their sirens on q st?
Keith Long Keith Long Wednesday, July 16, 2014 7:24:25 PM No that I know of CP
Keith Long Keith Long Wednesday, July 16, 2014 7:26:11 PM What makes me angry is that management entertains this mess. This is a metropolitan city. Due to contrary beliefs there will be noise lots of it. Lol
William Alfred Sellers William Alfred Sellers Thursday, July 17, 2014 5:57:49 AM If they don't like the noise move out of the city to a suberb

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