New York’s Bravest can take the heat, but some can’t stand the noise.
Nearly 1,500 FDNY firefighters and retirees joined with other smoke-eaters to file a mass lawsuit claiming years of exposure to loud sirens are making them deaf. The 4,000 plaintiffs contend Illinois-based siren manufacturer Federal Signal Corp. failed to install “diverters” or “shrouds” that would have redirected the 120-decibel wails — about equal to sitting in the first row of a Led Zeppelin concert, experts say.
“We were doing 6,000 runs per year,” said retired firefighter Glen Tracy, 58, who spent 31 years with Engine Co. 216 and Ladder 108 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “I can’t hear. I need hearing aids. Someone has to pay.
“My children would speak to me and I’d say, ‘What? What? What?’ ” he said.
Cops have not signed onto the lawsuits, although medics have. And municipalities that purchased the sirens are not being targeted.
“This is a strict product-liabilities case,” said Edward Marcowitz, managing partner of Manhattan law firm Bern Ripka, who claims that Federal Signal Corp. “knew it was too loud.”
One court watchdog made it loud and clear what he thinks of the suit.
“It’s a preposterous cash-grab,” said Tom Stebbins of the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York. “First of all, what’s their solution? If you don’t have sirens, people would get mowed down in the streets . . . The siren works exactly the way it should, and they’re suing them for that.
“Who is negligent? Are they going to sue God now? Are they going to sue Father Time?”
But the firefighters argue that long-term exposure to ear-splitting sirens can result in “high-frequency hearing loss,” which hearingrehabcenter.com describes as “a person’s ability to understand speech” and “hear higher octaves, like a woman’s or a child’s voice, or a bird chirping.”
Tom Manley, 62, of Pebble Beach, Fla., was a city firefighter for 21 years before retiring in 2003.
‘We were doing 6,000 runs per year…I can’t hear. I need hearing aids. Someone has to pay’
– retired firefighter Glen Tracy
“My hearing is really bad. I have a hearing aid . . . in each ear,” he said. “When I first got on the job, there were open cabs. Your back compartment was open. The sound just came right back to you.”
One of Manley’s duties was testing siren decibel levels, the acceptable standard for which is 85 decibels or lower, according to attorney Marc Bern.
“The decibel of the siren was so high that sometimes you couldn’t even hear the radio,” Manley said. “We were banging in way over 120 [decibels].”
But he adds little was done about it because “after 9/11 hit, there were bigger concerns than the noise.”
Gregory Sclafani, 59, of Staten Island, retired in 2002 after 20 years with the FDNY, most with Engine Co. 236 in East New York, Brooklyn. He said he didn’t realize the damage the job was doing to his hearing.
“It was a pretty active house, and we did over 7,000 runs a year,” he said. “A lot of noise. But you’re young, feel indestructible, looking for the action . . . I’m old school. You don’t go to the doctors. You brush it off. You go back to work.”
A Chicago jury hit Federal Signal with a $425,000 judgment in 2009, ruling the company’s siren “needlessly” damaged the hearing of nine firefighters.
Litigation has since spread to Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and “we have hundreds of claimants in Florida,” Marcowitz said. Each firefighter seeks $75,000 in damages plus court costs, he added.