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NY Sirens
August 26, 2011 4:23 PM   Subscribe

A short history of New York City's sirens. In the first years of the twenty-first century, New York City police officers had six different siren noises at their fingertips to alternate and overdub as they attempted to bore through stagnant traffic. The “Yelp” is a high-pitched, rapidly oscillating, jumpy sound that suggests a small dog with large teeth has hold of your thigh and is not about to let go ..... . From Cabinet Magazine.
posted by Rumple (28 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, all ambulance drivers tend to sound like frustrated djs the way the skip the sirens so relentlessly.
posted by elizardbits at 4:25 PM on August 26, 2011


Whoop Whoop thats the sound of the police.

this video talks about the rumbler, it is a low frequency siren that makes cars vibrate.

The history of FDNY sirens is almost as interesting, traditionally they used the Q2B siren,according to wikipedia at some point the city decided they were just too damn loud and phased them out, people started secretly retrofitting them back and removing them when the truck came up for maintenance lest they be confiscated. Seems like the FDNY is back to them now.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:47 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my neighborhood a siren sounds twice each Friday. Once 15 minutes before sunset and once at sunset. It being a predominantly Jewish Orthodox population, this signals the beginning of Shabbos.
posted by Splunge at 4:51 PM on August 26, 2011


I lived in Kensington for a while and that siren freaked me out until I figured it out.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:54 PM on August 26, 2011


Why didn't they include links to sound files of the various sirens mentioned? It would probably take me five minutes to locate them.
posted by Pararrayos at 4:54 PM on August 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


KRS-1 weighs in.
posted by Renoroc at 4:56 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


They have really got to standardize the lights and noises of emergency vehicles. The "get the fuck out of the way" noise and lights should be completely different from the "pull over and prepare to be boarded" lights and noise. It is confusing and dangerous.
posted by gjc at 5:04 PM on August 26, 2011


The lights. Old spinny ones? Good! Those new flat ones that blink like a motherfucker? No, no, no, no, no. The lights are supposed to warn of hazards; they're not supposed to be hazards themselves.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:18 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fascinating article. I enjoy reading history-orientated sites such as this. Ad hominem comment about freaking out about a siren until finding out what it was about reminded me of when I lived in Hawaii. The air force base would test their sirens which would often freak out someone visiting and unaware that it was just a test
posted by 2manyusernames at 5:37 PM on August 26, 2011


Almost 20 years ago, I was an electronics tech with Federal Signal. I was testing a community warning siren with five modules-- the one that looks like frisbees stacked on top of each other that can be heard for many miles.

During a test at my bench, I was using a police siren output signal fed into the amp, which was then supposed to be fed into a big bank of high-wattage resistors before driving the siren to attenuate the sound to a low level.

I forgot the resistors and filled the entire building with the wail of a police car at > 120dB. Everything in the plant came to a dead halt as we all grabbed our ears. I immediately killed the amp.

I could see that my supervisor was yelling at me, but I couldn't hear him or anything else for a couple of hours.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:07 PM on August 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


As someone who uses a siren for a living, I can attest that nothing moves people out if the way quite like a Federal Q.

I went through an ugly phase of mashing on the air horn every time a car ahead of us did something truly boneheaded that slowed us down. Then a colleague told me "You can't teach people to drive better using just an air horn." I've since been learning to let go. It's easy to believe you can force your way through the cars with your lights, sirens, and bulk. It seldom works. The secret is to flow through the traffic like water. I sometimes take a couple deep breaths and remind myself to relax and flow while responding to emergency calls.
posted by itstheclamsname at 6:50 PM on August 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


You call that a siren? This is a siren.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:59 PM on August 26, 2011


Man cabinet is awesome.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:05 PM on August 26, 2011


On 27 October 2009, the Times announced that in a recent twenty-four-hour crackdown on drivers’ cell phone use, the department had ticketed 7,529 people, adding that the daily average of cell phone tickets one year earlier had been 536.6

That's funny.
posted by nathancaswell at 7:11 PM on August 26, 2011


I had just been thinking about the history of sirens. Being an inveterate watcher of British TV and foreign movies, I hear the "Euro" hi-lo siren a lot, and I do hear it occasionally here now (I think our EMT wagons have them in the repertoire). The US siren is obviously originally based on a type of rotating drum with variable resistance (something like that), whereas the Euro siren is quite different, and I'm not sure I understand why that is. The article didn't really address this type of question, though.
posted by dhartung at 8:43 PM on August 26, 2011


I've always wanted to be an Ambulance DJ.

Mixing up all those noises all day long on our way to emergencies.

Wooo, wooo, wooo, ru-du-du-du... shk shk shk bee dooooonk what what what. bee dooooonk what. Wooo, wooo, wooo.
posted by entropone at 9:42 PM on August 26, 2011


When I was young boy, our police also used the embarrassing British siren, until we upgraded to the American type of noise. [0:27 – SFW]
posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:04 PM on August 26, 2011


I can only imagine how frustrating driving an emergency vehicle must be. Drivers can be amazingly oblivious to sirens, flashing lights, and even airhorns. And when they finally do notice the emergency vehicle they panic and do something utterly stupid.
posted by Authorized User at 11:41 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Drivers can be amazingly oblivious to sirens, flashing lights, and even airhorns.

Fascinating article. But I've always thought that the emergency drivers in NYC are at least partly to blame, because of how they use their sirens. From my observations it seems like emergency drivers in (eg.) London use no siren when the road is clear, then turn on the siren to shift traffic. Whereas New York emergency drivers use the siren all the way to the emergency as a default — so they then have to use a louder one, or alternating/mixing siren noises, when they meet obstructing traffic. Am I being unfair?
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:57 PM on August 26, 2011


Civilians can't buy these, can they?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:17 AM on August 27, 2011


Whereas New York emergency drivers use the siren all the way to the emergency as a default...

This has to do with how first responders are required to perform during a Code 3. I don't know that leaving the sirens off will get people out of the way necessarily; the idea is to ensure that people see or hear you from pretty far back so they can start to make way sooner. Simply turning the sirens on whenever you see someone is unreasonable in most cases and would still have to be done at intersections where you want as much advanced notice as possible anyway.
posted by disillusioned at 1:45 AM on August 27, 2011


the idea is to ensure that people see or hear you from pretty far back so they can start to make way sooner.

Yes, and come to think of it, I was mentally comparing a dense NYC block-based neighborhood with a much less dense suburban London one, which isn't a fair comparison at all.
posted by oliverburkeman at 3:15 AM on August 27, 2011


You call that a siren? This is a siren.
The Chrysler Air Raid Siren is so powerful that it can reportedly start fires with just the sound vibrations it produces. It can turn fog into rain, clearing the sky. It can produce an effective 70 dB air raid signal for a distance of two miles, and under proper conditions can be heard 30 to 50 miles away.
No kidding!
posted by rongorongo at 6:49 AM on August 27, 2011


The secret is to flow through the traffic like water. I sometimes take a couple deep breaths and remind myself to relax and flow while responding to emergency calls.
I am a leaf on the wind, watch me soar.
posted by mikelieman at 11:05 AM on August 27, 2011


The Chrysler Air Raid Siren is so powerful that it can reportedly start fires with just the sound vibrations it produces.

I love that VictorySiren.com site, I swear I saw it first on MeFi but I couldn't find it. These guys are really into it. They have details of refurbishing the vintage 50s Chrysler 331 HEMI engine that powers it, they have a recording of gunning the engine (#9 on this page) that is almost as impressive as the siren itself. And there are other guys who are into collecting these massive air raid sirens. There are enough of them to even support a quarterly journal, Horn and Whistle Magazine. You can even hire a restored Chrysler Air Raid Siren. I want to see a duel between this siren and the guys at Survival Research Labs.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:14 PM on August 27, 2011


I don't know which of those sirens they use here in the ATL area, but I have the damnedest time telling WHERE THEY ARE. The sound bounces around so much, I have a really difficult time determining if they are coming from behind me or what. It's hard to figure out how to get out of the way of a thing that you can't locate.
posted by Medieval Maven at 2:56 PM on August 27, 2011


I think that's deliberate. These were originally air raid sirens. Low frequency sounds are more difficult to locate. They didn't want to give incoming bombers a clear audio source to home in on.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:20 PM on August 27, 2011


charlie don't surf: Noticed the following on "Horn and Whistle Magazine" web page:
Come to a Horn & Whistle Concert! Several times a year, we hold our famous "Concerts," our horn honks and whistle blows. We rent boilers, air compressors, maybe even a complete locomotive. We've been known to take over a railroad facility. (With permission, of course.) Our subscribers bring everything from lighthouse foghorns to antique factory whistles. When we let go, we REALLY have a blast and make many fine, like-minded friends.
Which sounds like the sort of thing that should have made it to youtube - but apparently has not yet. I did find this recording of this symphony for ships's horns in Montreal port however. Basically a celebration that the ice has melted and everybody can get to sea again. Needs more sirens of course.
posted by rongorongo at 2:48 AM on August 28, 2011


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