Firefighters across US suing siren manufacturer over their hearing loss

About 4,400 current and former firefighters nationwide are suing Federal Signal, claiming it did not do enough to construct the sirens safer

There were days by the end of his change that firefighter Joseph Nardones head would be pounding and his eyes traversing, because of the noise of the siren on his truck.

The siren was so loud inside the taxi that it actually physically hurt, said the former New York City fire battalion chief. Even though he has been retired for more than a decade, Nardone said, the effects of the sirens persist in hearing loss that has left him unable to understand rapid conversation or follow along in church.

Nardone is among about 4,400 current and former firefighters nationwide who are suing Federal Signal, an Oak Brook, Illinois-based company that constructs sirens, claiming it did not do enough to construct the sirens safer for those on fire trucks who have to listen to them nearly every day.

They say the company could have designed the sirens in such a way that directed the volume away from areas where firefighters sit in the engines, shielding them from voice blasts that lawyers say reach 120 decibels, approximately equivalent to a rock concert.

Nardone, 73, said: The manufacturer had the means and ability to do something about it and they didnt.

Federal Signal highlights the fact that directing the sound defeats one of the main purposes of a siren to warn motorists and pedestrians that a truck is coming. And it says it has long supported what many departments have advised its firefighters to do: wear ear protection.

The suits, which began surfacing more than ten years ago, have been in places such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, New Jersey and the Chicago area, said attorney Marc Bern, who is leading all the lawsuits.

In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company said juries have decided in favor of Federal Signal in most of the half-dozen or so suits that have gone to trial.

The company has settled in some cases without acknowledging any wrongdoing. The largest settlement, reached in 2011, necessitated the company to pay $3.6 m to 1,069 firefighters for cases filed in Philadelphia.

Bern said Federal Signal have been able to constructed the sirens with a shroud to caution those in its track instead of a more generalized blare.

Clearly, you dont have to have voiced going all the way to the rear of the fire engine, he said. If youre driving behind a fire engine and you dont assure a 50 ft-long, red engine with illuminations going on and off, theres truly something wrong.

David Duffy, attorney for Federal Signal, said making the sirens more directed would set firefighters and the public at greater risk.

Firefighters have testified that they want a loud siren that projects sound to the front and sides of fire trucks, he said. Accidents often involve vehicles that make fire trucks from behind, necessitating a loud noise in all directions, he said.

Duffy also noted that firefighting organisations have for three decades advocated utilize of earplugs or ear encompass to reduce the risk of hearing loss from sirens or other noises in the course of their firefighting duties, of which there are many.

The Fire Department of New York was not able to immediately provide information on its policies on noise or whether earplugs or encompass were provided or required.

Duffy said examines measuring the level of noise firefighters are exposed to during their work shifts, including sirens, is on average below 85 decibels.

Federal criteria take into account the intensity of the audio and the duration. The higher the decibel level, the shorter the time employees can be exposed to it.

Rick Neitzel, who examines noise and other exposures at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, said the standards are geared to traditional chores like fabricating , not firefighting, where shiftings can last for longer and the exposure is intermittent but intense.

A lot of the questions now are: is the current recommended level appropriate for exposure that a firefighter would have? And I would say were not entirely sure, he said.

Dr Lawrence Lustig, a hearing loss expert at Columbia University Medical Center, said people have different levels of susceptibility. Some research involving animals seems to had indicated that noise exposure in early years have contributed to more rapid age-related hearing loss, he said.

Retired Bronx firefighter Frank Bazzicalupo was exposed early. He joined the FDNY in his 20 s and remained for 25 years. The 61 -year-old spent the last decade or so of that career driving fire trucks before retiring in 2002.

These days, trying to hear in any surrounding that has background noise is an exercise in frustration.

On a plane is the worst, he said. I hear the engines roaring. I cant hear the person or persons next to me.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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