This article was originally published in the Volume 29, Issue 6 (June 2000) of "The Voice".
Fire departments across the United States gathered on this Memorial Day to honor our nation's armed forces. We also remember those of our own ranks, members of the fire service, who have lost their lives fighting fire, or who have passed away due to other circumstances.
Memorial Day was established in 1866 in Columbus, Georgia. It was a day to commemorate the service of the soldiers and sailors of the Civil War, and since 1898, those who served in the Spanish American War. Today, we commemorate the soldiers and sailors who served in all of our wars.
Without any notice, and with little objection, Memorial Day has also become a day in which we disregard National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1500. Fire departments crowd the exterior of their fire apparatus with firefighters, and transport them to the parade route. Firefighters cover the apparatus like ants on a discarded candy bar. The majority of these firefighters are not safely seated and belted.
Another violation of firefighter safety and health is the total disregard for acoustic trauma. This phenomenon refers to a sudden, permanent or temporary, hearing loss related to a brief exposure to the noise of an explosion, siren, or air horn. How many pieces of fire apparatus blast their way down Main Street, giving nearby spectators, as well as the firefighters, a good dose of acoustic trauma?
When I first wrote about this safety omission, a firefighter wrote me noting that perhaps people are confused as the meaning of Memorial Day, and associate it with the joy of the Fourth of July celebration. Therefore, all the noise!
ISFSI member William F. Jenaway, PhD., Chief of the King of Prussia Volunteer Fire Department, and I, have noted this problem for years during seminars on fire protection in the 21st century. We both have received telephone calls from firefighters across the county asking our policy on blowing the sirens and horns in parades. The policy is simple. No acoustic trauma, meaning no sirens or air horns during the parade.
We asked the noted ear, throat and nose specialist, Dr. Thomas Coffey, if there was any literature on the dangers to people in the close proximity to a siren. Dr. Coffey provided me with reams of documentation on the ill effects of sirens and horns producing acoustic trauma. In fact, he offered any and all assistance in supporting the position of no sirens and air horns during the parade. That advise was tendered five years ago. Unfortunately, we still have people ignoring this simple safety precaution, and blasting their way down the parade route.
However, as the fire instructor, you can at least make them aware of this safety issue. Put more meaning into the phrase "have a safe holiday!" Let's prepare them now for the next parade.