Proposal Has Big Apple's Police, Fire Trucks And Ambulances Switching To Sounds Heard In European Cities Like London, Paris


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Some signature sounds around the city could be changing.

There’s a push by some city lawmakers to change emergency sirens on police cars, fire trucks and ambulances.

“I’ve been hearing from constituents complaining that the current sirens in New York are a high-pitched, continuous noise — a nuisance,” says Helen Rosenthal, an Upper West Side Democrat and one of the sponsors of the proposal.

The sound could change to an alternating, two-tone siren that’s typically heard in London and Paris. Supporters say European-style sirens are not as annoying and could reduce noise pollution.

“The alternating high-low siren required by this legislation is not as piercing,” said co-sponsor Carlina Rivera, a Manhattan Democrat.

New York City Police car. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

City council members are looking closely at the experience of the city’s Mount Sinai Health System, which already uses the two-tone siren in its 25 ambulances that make about 100,000 trips a year. The switch was made last year after decades of complaints from residents of the Upper East Side home of the hospital complex.

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At community board meetings, Mount Sinai’s Emergency Medical Services Director Joseph Davis played various siren options to find out which one locals preferred.

“People hated them all,” Davis said, “but the ‘high-low’ was least intrusive. It didn’t have that piercing sound.”

Davis, a 40-year EMS veteran who suffers from hearing damage that he blames on repeated exposure to sirens, said the change was simple and cost effective: All it took was reprogramming the electronic box in each vehicle, which comes preloaded with seven different sounds with names such as “Wail,” ”Yelp” and “Piercer.”

In fact, many ambulances, fire trucks and police cars are equipped with alternate sirens and horns that they can employ in certain situations, such as in traffic when cars and pedestrians just won’t get out of the way. They include short blips and the “Rumbler” low-frequency, vibrating siren aimed at motorists who may otherwise be unable to hear higher frequencies.

For some Manhattanites, any change in the city’s daily siren song would be welcomed.

“I always have to cover my ears with my hands when a siren-blaring ambulance passes,” said Louise Belulovich, a Manhattan attorney. “If I’m carrying packages and unable to, then what is an annoying experience becomes a painful one.”

But Linda Sachs, a longtime resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side who lives near one of the Mount Sinai hospitals that uses the new European siren, doesn’t think the change is for the good. She prefers the old New York standard.

“The old sirens never woke me up, but these make me shudder,” Sachs said, adding that she understands city lawmakers are attempting to do something about noise pollution. “But the old sound wasn’t as obnoxious.”

A city council vote has not been scheduled yet, but, if approved, the legislation would require all emergency vehicles to change their sirens within two years.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)