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#1
Old 12-02-2003, 11:07 AM
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What's the modern-day purpose of a fire siren?

Sleeping peacefully this morning, I was awakened at 4:00 by a familiar sound - the local fire department's fire siren.

I've lived in this town all my life - at varying distances from the fire station ranging from directly across the street to 10+ miles away. All my life I've heard that siren and just accepted it. It sounds every time there is a fire call, as well as at 12:00 noon and 6:00 pm every day.

But what is the purpose. Can it be that, despite modern communication technology, it is still necessary to sound a siren that can be heard miles away in order to alert the townsfolk of a fire?

Help me understand what appears to be a very archaic practice.
#2
Old 12-02-2003, 11:17 AM
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Well, some departments keep the siren simply for tradition. However, the modern communication technology is very expensive and some volunteer departments simply cannot afford pagers and/or radios for everyone, so they rely on a phone bank or siren.

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#3
Old 12-02-2003, 11:18 AM
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My department has addressed that issue, and weekly tone tests were scrapped over 10 years ago. We've also dropped the number of siren cycles from a two minute run, to 45 seconds.

Why continue to use a siren? Pocket pagers are not an absolute science. Depending upon terrain and the radio frequency in use, there are dead spots which preclude receipt of a dispatch message. Beyond that, they suffer from occasional dead batteries, and as such need to live in the charger overnight.

Sometimes we folk who carry them will forget them-leaving them in the house or car while doing ordinary work around the house.
Cutting the grass eliminates my ability to hear the pager, but I will hear the siren.

Not unlike other issues in life, I endure a minor inconveniece for the collective good. Hopefully, you'll agree.
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#4
Old 12-02-2003, 12:14 PM
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Sirens are simple and cheap and rarely break down. It doesn't require people to be running around with a beeper or phone. It reaches all users simultaneously (subject to limitations due to the speed of sound) instead of having to contact them one by one.

New technology is not automatically the best way to do things.
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#5
Old 12-03-2003, 12:49 AM
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Ok, I dont think I understand this at all.

What are we defining as a "fire siren"

1.The Siren on board a Fire Truck.... Needed to *stop* traffic (not that anyone does)

2.Air Raid Siren? .... Well I guess a Majority of people would just head inside or search for answers on TV or Radio on instinct.

3. A Call box? Well I guess this is needed for those who dont have anyother availible way to call the Fire Department. In the case of a fire, it may be the only way to get a call out.... (If a house or buidling burns down at 3:30 am... you cant use your own phone, its inside the fire.... and who are you going to wake up ?) at other times, shock would set in,,, in the middle of it all, and seeing the call box might be the thing to "snap" out of such a funk.... it would remind you of what to do etc.


If we are talking about the Third item, I would like to point out that in Atlanta GA, these are not commonplace at all.. I saw some once in RI, when I was on vacation there. A few police call boxes can be found downtown, or on college campuses.. I don't know if these make noise when activated.
#6
Old 12-03-2003, 01:04 AM
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If it's sounding twice a day, you have a small minded bureaucrat running the station. No large town would put up with such a thing. I'll bet the guy in charge is 70+
#7
Old 12-03-2003, 01:48 AM
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Some years ago I was driving through a town in California (Paso Robles) and a siren started up that was astounding. I could not believe how loud that thing was!

It was used to gather the volunteer fire department, whose members might be miles away.
#8
Old 12-03-2003, 02:14 AM
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Well, my town has a fire "horn", not a siren. Imagine a very very large cow mooing, only with an added oomph on the beginning. It doesn't sound for fires, it actually only sounds for two things:

1) Every day at 12:00 noon it goes off
2) For a firefighters funeral it is sounded several times

My dad is the volunteer fire department chief, so I get to know all these tidbits. It basically goes off for historical reasons, tradition and all. The department used phone banks a while ago. When you dialed the number (this was before we had 911) the phone in every firefighters house would ring. And I mean ring and not stop. Not "riiiiiiiing...pause....riiiiiiiiing....pause..." but "riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing." Once 911 was put into effect, everyone relied on pagers, though with the phones, they had both. About a minute after the phone started to ring, the pager would go off.

As for loud? Walk by the station at noon and you will have ringing in your ears for hours. Suprisingly, very few people complain, they actually enjoy the fact that they know when it's noon, since they might be outside without a watch or something.
#9
Old 12-03-2003, 07:52 AM
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I grew up in a small town where fire horns were sounded. There is actually a method to the madness.

First of all, lots of places still use volunteer firemen. The fire horn tells the town (1) where the fire is (the town is broken down into districts and (2) how many alarms (how many firehouses should respond).

So, a 2 alarm fire in district 3 would sound: 3 blasts for the district, short pause, 2 blasts for the alarms, long pause, repeat.

Lots of times, the firemen will make it to the fire before the trucks.

Although fire horns may seem anachronistic today, townspeople still depend on them for information as well as for warning.
#10
Old 12-03-2003, 08:45 AM
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It can be used to notify the public in certain emergencies, though it would take some pre-notification. An example may be if a tornado watch it issues, a public notification that a fire horn means that a tornado is on the ground. I don't know if it is used this way but would think it would be a good use for it.
#11
Old 12-03-2003, 09:12 AM
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Thanks to all.

To clarify a bit...

Perhaps "siren" is not the correct term. What I'm referring to is a device located at/attached to the fire station itself. The best description of the sound it makes is like that of an air raid siren - starts at a low pitch, gets progressively higher in pitch and volume, then dies back down again. It sounds twice for fires, and once at 12 noon and 6 pm (tone tests I assume).

This is a volunteer fire dept. All of the firefighters have pagers, and I believe the officers have two-way radios in their vehicles.

This is no big city, but it is the largest town by area in my particular state.

I suppose the pager reliability factor makes sense...but it still seems very archaic.

Thanks again.
#12
Old 12-03-2003, 09:42 AM
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In a town with an all-volunteer force, the town siren alerts non-firemen that several people are soon going to be on the road in their own (unmarked) vehicles, driving in what may appear to be an unreasonable hurry. I've heard anecdotal evidence along the lines of "This guy behind me was honking his horn and flashing his lights, and I couldn't figure out what he wanted, and then I heard the fire siren, so I pulled off and let him pass me. Lucky he got to that fire on time."
#13
Old 10-27-2013, 05:49 AM
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fire sirens

I was in the volunteer fire service for a total of 17 years. I'm awake right now because my local VFD's siren just went off at 2:22 AM !!! It is activated for ANY call, not just emergencies. I was wondering what other folks around the country have to say about these things. I can accurately tell you they are NOT required - at least here in PA. They are used mainly because of "tradition". Anyone reading this who is, or has been involved in the Fire Service knows this to be true. My local VFD's siren goes off at ALL hours-24/7/365. I was a member there from 1-2003 to 1-2007. I tried so many times to get rid of it, or to at least have it go off only from sun rise to sun set because NO ONE in the community liked it. As a matter of fact, people have shot it several times. So, all this would naturally beg the question WHY is it still used. " TRADITION" Each time I would bring up the subject at the monthly meetings under "new business" and make a formal motion at the meeting to use it only during daylight hours, I would be shot down- and I was one of the Assistant Chiefs ! In most states the county and state government has very little or no control over it's volunteer fire departments except their conduct while driving Emergency Vehicles and personal vehicles to calls. This varies state by state. The only way I know of to stop this nonsense is to get a petition and present it to your Borough Council. Be forewarned though- the Volunteer Fire Service is very powerful politically speaking ! Most politicians will not go against them. I firmly believe that is why the county and state never steps in. Think about it. Over 70% of America is protected by volunteers. Actually, I think the number is higher than that. In the next community, about a 1/2 mile away from me, they are comprised of seven VFD's. Their sirens are only activated during daylight hours. Around here it is at the discretion of the fire chief of each department. All a Chief has to do is call Fire Dispatch and say please do not activate my stations sire at night and it's done ! That simple ! Based on all my past experience, belonging to three different VFD's over the years, two of which "did not" use a siren, they are NOT needed. Not one Fire Fighter I have ever met has missed a call because they did not hear their departments siren !
#14
Old 10-27-2013, 06:49 AM
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Another thread on the topic of fire sirens/noon whistles for your viewing pleasure.
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#15
Old 10-27-2013, 08:33 AM
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I lived in Eindhoven, Netherlands, for a few months. They have an emergency siren that sounds every Monday at 12:00. This happens to test the siren and remind people of its existence. One day there was a big fire at the PSV stadium, and people had to stay inside because of the smoke and everything, so the siren was working. As it was not 12:00 of a Monday people knew that it was the real deal.
#16
Old 10-27-2013, 08:37 AM
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But on my case the siren worked like the air raid sirens during WW1 and 2.
#17
Old 10-27-2013, 08:46 AM
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It's not for fires - it's a ZOMBIE alert.
#18
Old 10-27-2013, 08:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tiredofthelies View Post
Based on all my past experience, belonging to three different VFD's over the years, two of which "did not" use a siren, they are NOT needed. Not one Fire Fighter I have ever met has missed a call because they did not hear their departments siren !
What, they smell the smoke?
#19
Old 10-27-2013, 09:07 AM
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Originally Posted by JBDivmstr View Post
Another thread on the topic of fire sirens/noon whistles for your viewing pleasure.
I'm not sure sirens exist.
#20
Old 10-27-2013, 09:11 AM
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I live in a small town with a fire siren and grew in a smaller town with one. The damn things were sounded at noon and 6:00 in the afternoon six days a week and when there was a fire call. The daily siren was mostly for the convenience of parents -- it told wandering children that it was time to start making their way home. The fire call siren may once have served to gather the volunteer fire department once but that is now done by pager and cell phone. The real purpose of the fire call siren is now to warn the general populace to look out for the firefighters as they rush to the fire house -- the first guy there gets to drive the truck -- and for the trucks as they speed away. It's a legitimate public safety measure.

On top of that it gives everybody the chance to rush out on the sidewalk, ask each other where the fire is and watch the general car race that ensues.
#21
Old 10-27-2013, 10:58 AM
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The fire sirens in many locations are also used as tornado alerts. If the siren begins to run, interminably, for a prolonged period, that is the warning that a tornado has been sighted. Again, there is no need for individual pagers or phones, (although my county has instituted a "reverse 911" system to spread the word by phone, as well). Anyone without an electronic device on their hip can hear the siren and know that they need to take cover.
#22
Old 10-27-2013, 11:27 AM
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zombie or no

they used to alert volunteer fire fighters to assemble at the fire house to go to a fire. then later a pager, if there was pager coverage, would be used in addition. then later a cell phone, if there was cell phone coverage, would be used in addition. still people may not be able to hear those devices but they might hear the siren.

then they were used also as air raid/missle warnings.

they are also used to alert the general public to severe weather warnings for people not near a tv or radio tuned to a local station. even in major cities there are sirens for this purpose which may no longer be operated by or located at the fire department.
#23
Old 10-27-2013, 11:57 AM
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I grew up in a small town with a volunteer fire department. Well, there were maybe 4 full time paid employees. And there was a siren on the roof. This was before the time that pagers became popular.

One long, um, "whoop" of the siren told volunteers that there was an ambulance call and for the on-call ambulance crew only to head to the station house.

A series of up down whoops was the fire call and everyone on call was supposed to head in.
#24
Old 10-27-2013, 04:49 PM
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This doesn't apply to everyone, obviously, but in the hilly terrain where I live, cell service is spotty. The siren alerts VFs who live or work or just happen to be in a dead zone. And, as danceswithcats said, electronics (and people) are not perfect, so the siren acts as a backup.

I grew up in a town where the siren went off every day at noon — we called it the "noon whistle." I now live in a different town, a block from the firehouse, and I often wish it went off at noon. There was something comforting about it.
#25
Old 10-27-2013, 07:56 PM
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My city has an emergency siren, but they use it mainly to signal shelter-in-place warnings when there are problems at nearby oil refineries and chemical plants. They test the thing every Wednesday at 11 AM.
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#26
Old 10-28-2013, 12:11 AM
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Originally Posted by johnpost View Post
then they were used also as air raid/missle warnings.
Where I grew up, this was the only use of the sirens. More specifically, it was used to tell the air crews to get to their planes and for everyone else to pull off/stay off the roads so as not to impede them. The siren was supplemented by a set of red lights mounted on the sides of utility poles. Fortunately, the only times we ever heard the siren or saw the lights on was during tests.
#27
Old 10-28-2013, 06:29 AM
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On a smaller scale, I've seen fire departments that had flashing lights and warning bells that would ring when the department was responding to a call so that people driving past the fire station wouldn't get plowed over by the HOLYSHITFIRETRUCK that would come barreling out suddenly.

Otherwise, living on military bases, we use a loudspeaker system (called the "Giant Voice" that issues various warnings (unless you're at a base downrange, usually weather-related warnings like typhoons and tornadoes) as well as playing routine bugle calls (you haven't lived until you've lived on a base where they play Reveille every morning at 6AM and your dorm is across the street from one of those demon speakers)

Living in Oklahoma and Kansas, I'm also familiar with the Storm Sirens, which make the most hellish skull-piercing noise to warn of nearby tornadoes (along with the weekly tests, which my wife's home town for some reason did at 7AM on Saturdays).

Last edited by Raguleader; 10-28-2013 at 06:30 AM.
#28
Old 10-28-2013, 07:27 AM
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When I was a child growing up on an island in the middle of the Pacific, that siren meant "Get uphill fast, possible incoming tsunami!"
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#29
Old 10-28-2013, 07:43 AM
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I love the different pictures of the US that I get from this site. I had no idea that so much of your fire service was voluntary.

In the UK, we do have some, what we call, retained firemen, but most are full time employees of the local council. In the early days (late 17th century) they were all private fire companies paid for by the insurance companies.The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (for London) was established by Act of Parliament in 1865 and other municipalities followed suit.

After WW2 they were all effectively taken over by the local councils and now, some are council run, and some are authorities in their own right - although all are funded by local taxpayers.

We don't have sirens, except on the trucks, and retained firemen are called by pager or phone alert. They have no right to break any traffic laws when going to a fire either.

The only alert we have that is similar to your fire siren, is the Lifeboatmen's maroon. Lifeboats here are owned and operated by a charity, and all the crews are volunteers. When they are needed they use phones and pagers, but also, by tradition, they fire off a rocket that explodes with a very loud bang.
#30
Old 10-28-2013, 08:02 AM
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Originally Posted by bob++ View Post
The only alert we have that is similar to your fire siren, is the Lifeboatmen's maroon. Lifeboats here are owned and operated by a charity, and all the crews are volunteers. When they are needed they use phones and pagers, but also, by tradition, they fire off a rocket that explodes with a very loud bang.
Now that is cool.
#31
Old 10-28-2013, 11:06 AM
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Y'all should rig it so it makes fireworks in the pattern of a life preserver or something too.
#32
Old 10-28-2013, 04:29 PM
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When I was growing up, they tested the air raid sirens every Tuesday at 10:00 am.
I always wondered why the Russians weren't smart enough to attack at 10:00 am on Tuesday mornings.

In the towns where they sound the sirens at noon every day, what do they do if a fire breaks out at noon?

Last edited by Alley Dweller; 10-28-2013 at 04:30 PM.
#33
Old 10-28-2013, 05:27 PM
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Originally Posted by tomndebb View Post
The fire sirens in many locations are also used as tornado alerts. If the siren begins to run, interminably, for a prolonged period, that is the warning that a tornado has been sighted. Again, there is no need for individual pagers or phones, (although my county has instituted a "reverse 911" system to spread the word by phone, as well). Anyone without an electronic device on their hip can hear the siren and know that they need to take cover.
Few tornados here, but the ones near the beaches are used in the advanced tsunami warning system.
#34
Old 10-28-2013, 07:52 PM
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I think the answer is simple, bureaucracy rarely keeps up with technology. There was a stink a few years ago about phone companies renting rotary dial phones for $10 a month because the contract started in the 50's. The question about railroads is still on the driving test in my area, but the last train ceased operation like 80 years ago. "This is a test of the emergency broadcast system" only runs on like 6 channels out of 70.

Last edited by Superhal; 10-28-2013 at 07:52 PM.
#35
Old 10-28-2013, 08:13 PM
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I read a lot about fire signals being used for weather alerts.
The fire signal in the small town i reside in is under the control of the civil defense director, and that could also be the fire chief in some areas, but the signal certainly should sound with a different tone for weather emergency's.
As a retired firefighter, our siren/signal is sounded a second time when the retires are needed to assist. I still carry my EMS pager with the fire tone and help the fire crew whenever i can.
Our County Fire Chiefs Association tries to keep all city protocols as uniform as possible for dispatchers so Fire Signal is only sounded when there is a request or it can be manually activated from the fire station.
Our signal is also sounded for 30 sec. along with the pagers as the casket is loaded into the hearse.
#36
Old 10-28-2013, 08:21 PM
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Just to add to my about 10 yr old post, they are not part of the fire service, but civil defense, just part of the use is to alert firefighters though that use is mostly obsolete.
#37
Old 10-29-2013, 01:05 AM
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I grew up in the country. The edges of the fire district were over 7 miles from fire house (1). Not everyone who lived in the district was a member VFD. My dad worked a full time job along with working the farm so he did not have time for the meetings. But if we saw smoke we threw shovels, hoes, and maybe an ax or pick in a car or truck and headed to the smoke. The need of the siren was to tell non members to look for smoke. Living in the country if your neighbor need help you responded so the siren was necessary.

My father in law was on a different VFD they used a horn. The horn was used by code to tell the volunteers where the fire was in case they did not have their pagers with them.
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