Firefighters Who Lost Their Hearing Sue Siren Maker

They say company didn't do enough to protect them
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 21, 2015 3:33 AM CST
In this March 12, 2014, file photo, firefighters respond to a fire after an explosion and building collapse in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York.   (John Minchillo)
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(Newser) – Around 4,400 current and former firefighters nationwide are suing Federal Signal Corp., an Illinois-based company that makes sirens, claiming it didn't do enough to make them safer for those on firetrucks who have to listen to them nearly every day. They say the company could have designed them in a way that directs the volume away from areas where firefighters sit in the engines, shielding them from sound blasts that lawyers say reach 120 decibels, roughly equivalent to a rock concert. "The manufacturer had the means and ability to do something about it and they didn't," says former FDNY Battalion Chief Joseph Nardone. "The siren was so loud inside the cab that it actually physically hurt." The 73-year-old says the effects of the sirens linger in hearing loss more than a decade after his retirement.

Federal Signal argues 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 lawsuits began surfacing more than a decade ago and the company says juries have found in its favor in most of the half-dozen or so suits that have gone to trial. The company also has settled in some cases without admitting any wrongdoing. The largest settlement, reached in 2011, required the company to pay $3.6 million to 1,069 firefighters for cases filed in Philadelphia. (Modern homes are blamed for the leading cause of line-of-duty deaths for US firefighters.)

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