The Fire Station, The Station Articles

Researching Fire Station Speakers? Consider Noise Levels First

By US Digital Designs Staff

If you thought that all fire station speaker systems were pretty much the same in quality and performance, think again. Following is a bit of research from US Digital Designs that just might help change your perceptions on the topic.

The Alarming Facts About Fire Station Speaker Systems
Did you know that significant auditory nerve damage because of loud, continuous noise in and around fire stations is one of the most common health issues for station personnel and staff? In fact, the problem is on the rise.

Research conducted by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that ambulance and other emergency sirens generate an alarming 120 decibels (dB) of sound, and are second only to firecrackers and other loud explosions in their potential to cause serious hearing loss.

Advances in sonic technology have led to major improvements in the design and performance of fire station apparatus bay speaker systems that generate such noise levels. So great are the improvements, in fact, that it really pays to do some research on the pros and cons of the wide array of systems available on the market today.

Three Factors to Consider Before Selecting a Fire Station Speaker System
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is the leading authority on fire, electrical, and building safety. NFPA 1500, Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program, specifies the minimum requirements for an occupational safety and health program for fire departments and organizations like them. From the NFPA’s documentation, here are the three major factors you should consider when evaluating sound and noise levels, which ought to be on the top of your list of speaker system considerations:

  1. Gauge the Intensity of Sound (Loudness and Softness). A speaker system’s performance at loud and soft levels is a major indicator of its quality. Listen to speakers at both level extremes and test their sound performance.
  2. Measure the Sound Frequency Levels. Measured in dB, with zero assigned as the weakest sound that a person can hear and 140 being at the threshold of pain with the instantaneous possibility of permanent hearing loss.
  3. Calculate the Duration of Sound. As the NFPA’s noise level research reflects, the length of time a loud siren or alarm sounds is another factor that needs to be considered when evaluating fire station noise levels.

Some Systems Non-Compliant
Some station alerting system manufacturers recommend speakers enabled with “active-equalization.” This feature is automatically activated to increase alert volume levels, when ambient noise (e.g, engine noise, etc.) levels rise. But systems such as these can violate NFPA and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards, and, as many experts believe, they can further jeopardize firefighter health and well being, risking their permanent hearing damage.

Engine noise by itself often surpasses 100 db, so any system trying to overcome those levels can surely damage the hearing of anyone nearby. Moreover, the acoustics of an apparatus bay, with hard surfaces everywhere, can create an exceptional acoustic “slap.” Any effort to increase volume to override ambient noises can ultimately make a vocalized alert very difficult to understand. In these environments, a visual reinforcement of an emergency alert (message signs, monitors, etc.) is the more effective means of increasing the responder’s situational awareness.

For more information, visit www.stationalerting.com.