Rivera and Rosenthal call for softer sirens

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | On Feb. 13, Councilmembers Helen Rosenthal and Carlina Rivera introduced legislation to change sirens on city ambulances from the American wail to the European two-tone.

The new legislation is a push to reduce the amount of noise in the city, one of New Yorkers’ most frequent complaints. According to the city’s NYC Open Data, there were 388,383 noise complaints made to 311 in 2018.

“Noise pollution is an often unrecognized but very real public health issue,” said Rosenthal.

Ambulances’ sirens should be a little less jarring, Councilmembers Rivera and Rosenthal say. File photo

Studies have shown that exposure to chronic environmental noise, like construction and traffic, increase adverse health effects, such as sleep disturbance, cardiovascular disease and hearing loss.

Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, has received many complaints from constituents about sirens, especially from ambulances, since her first year in office. In 2017, her office reached out to Mt. Sinai Hospital about the complaints.

The hospital is no stranger to siren complaints, according to Joe Davis, senior director of EMS Services at Mt. Sinai Hospital. Mt. Sinai has a total of 24 ambulances that responded to 100,000 emergency calls last year.

By the time Rosenthal’s office reached out to the hospital, however, Mt. Sinai had already started testing the effect of European two-tone sirens — which emit a high and then a low tone — with four of their ambulances to address complaints.

Davis learned in 2017 that the Whelen brand sirens used on Mt. Sinai ambulances can emit a variety of tones. The two-tone siren was then tested on four ambulances.

“It’s funny that we changed it, and the complaints started to go away,” he Davis.

After hearing positive feedback from the drivers and crew, Davis decided to present the two-tone siren sound at a community board meeting at the hospital to gauge public opinion.

“I told them what was available, what we had, and it’s funny they all picked the ‘high-low,’ ” said Davis.

Now all of the hospital’s two-dozen ambulances use the less-piercing European two-tone.

“We still get them,” said Davis about noise complaints to the hospital.

People will always hate sirens, Davis conceded. “But it’s not as many as we had,” he said.

2 Responses to Rivera and Rosenthal call for softer sirens

  1. Well I’m all for that. Some of these volunteer ambulances have gone too far with their excessive volume and sound effects. Next on the list should be to clamp down on the private garbage trucks, in terms of noise and reckless behavior.

  2. Thank you! I'm so glad that this is now being discussed. The city is noisy enough without the additional loud and obtrusive wailing of ambulances. One can't think with all that noise, which is a contributor to deafness; and hearing aids are so extremely expensive!!! When we go out, we always have to be on the alert for speeding cars, people traffic, pickpockets, things falling from buildings, unstable people, and people rushing. I totally agree and have for years wondered why we couldn't use the UK's method of a more civilized softer sound for ambulances. We in NYC deserve an award for being able to survive here in this overcrowded city.

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