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Siren suit lot of noise, nonsense

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Friday, April 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

These are lottery tickets masquerading as lawsuits.

Fourteen Pittsburgh firefighters hope to strike it rich in court, having sued manufacturers of two items of profound importance to their profession. They are seeking damages for the permanent hearing loss they allegedly suffered because of prolonged exposure to sirens.

The defendants are various reckless companies that make the sirens and the firetrucks to which they are affixed. Most people believe sirens constructively alert people to the nearby presence of large emergency vehicles, but apparently they serve a significantly more sinister purpose: They viciously prey on innocent eardrums.

Nothing against the firefighters, whose job obviously can be hazardous. But I can't see executives of the companies being sued losing much sleep over this litigation.

The possible crux of a successful defense:

• A firetruck is essential to a firefighter's job.

That's because instances of firefighters traveling to fires vastly outnumber those relatively rare instances when fires travel to them.

• A siren is an essential component of the modern firetruck.

The two go together like Homer and Marge, Dunkin' and Donuts, Sean Hannity and contemptuous disdain. Firetrucks without sirens vanished around the same time as horse-drawn milk carts and widespread outbreaks of scarlet fever.

• Most firefighter candidates are intelligent enough to comprehend the previous two points.

Before taking the job, they realize that walking to a blaze isn't an effective way to quickly extinguish it. More often than not, the end result would entail arriving at a fire scene with nothing more to do than dampen a large pile of smoldering ash.

So just accepting the position is a subtle acknowledgement they will have to ride firetrucks, which are equipped with sirens, which enjoy well-deserved reputations for being loud. Firefighters who have a problem with firetrucks probably should investigate less auditorily intrusive occupations, perhaps accountancy or ornithology.

• Products can't be considered faulty if they do what they are designed to do.

The lawsuits claim that the sirens are defective because they “lack sufficient insulation or other noise dampening measures that would lower the intense noise produced by (the) sirens.”

Uh, no. Sirens actually are defective if they fail to produce intense noise, as that intense noise is the sole reason for purchasing them. Businesses that manufacture products with features that negate the very reason for the product's existence usually and quickly go under.

This litigation makes about as much sense as lifeguards suing the swimming pool management for failing to provide sufficient overcast to prevent severe sunburn. The firefighters who filed the lawsuits have a better chance of striking it rich by betting on horses at the Meadows, if only they could stand the thunderous sound of the hooves.

Still, they can take some consolation in the fact the siren problem is easily addressable with a minor equipment modification.

Headphones before hoses, fellas.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7857 or

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