Why are the fire sirens in New York breaking our ears?

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Elia Tabuenca García
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Fire sirens in New York, sweet music that breaks your ears

During your stay in New York, you've probably already woke up with a start to loud sirens from firefighters, ambulances and other emergency vehicles. The question that comes up often is the following: but why are sirens so loud? Believe me, it's not just because they want to stand out when passing red lights. There are other reasons that many people don't know ...



In France, the sirens used by fire trucks and police cars have a two-tone sound signal (the famous “pin-pon” that everyone knows) whose volume recorded at a distance of one meter is 110 to 120 decibels. In the United States, emergency vehicles use a sinusoidal siren which is much more powerful and louder than the French ones. In New York, emergency vehicles are forced to use sirens whose volume does not exceed 90 decibels. Admittedly, this figure is lower than the French volume, but it is calculated at a distance of 17 meters against one meter for the French. You can imagine what the number of decibels would be at 1m ...

The tall buildings, one of the reasons for such loud sirens

In addition to the power of American sirens, there is another factor to take into account, explains Sébastien Frémont. : “In New York, as in all major American cities, the phenomenon and the sound are amplified by the reverberation of noise on the facades of skyscrapers, hence this real sound aggression when a rescue vehicle passes nearby ”.



The sirens of firefighters, ambulances and police are, as you might expect, used to get there as quickly as possible, but also to secure all road users, including the emergency vehicles themselves. “Their objective is clear: to attract the attention of other road users, so that they facilitate the passage of emergency vehicles by deviating to the right and stopping as far to the right of the road as possible, according to the American highway code ”, explains Sébastien Frémont. Last year, New York City firefighters responded to more than 1,6 million emergencies, a record since the Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) was established 150 years ago.


Hearing loss?

If you feel like you lose your eardrums every time a fire engine passes by, don't worry - these sirens don't have a real impact on your ears. There is no problem hearing them because even if sometimes the siren is extremely loud and amplified because of the buildings, it is only a very ephemeral nuisance. It would take several hours to have any effect on the inner ear. ” In comparison, music concerts are, according to him, more dangerous.


Regarding the sirens of firefighters during the night during your sleep, the only solution remains the earplugs ...

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