Polk residents alarmed by fire-engine sirens

Fire engines blaring sirens and air horns down lower Polk Street have drawn the ire of residents who believe emergency situations could be handled with a more dialed-down approach.

The root of the controversy is Station 3 at 1067 Post St. — the busiest fire station in the nation with 7,439 engine runs counted in 2007, according to San Francisco Fire Department spokeswoman Lt. Mindy Talmadge. The overwhelming majority of runs dispatched are medical emergencies, due in large part to the station’s proximity to the Tenderloin, where drug abuse is common, Talmadge said.

Michael Pedersen, a member of the Lower Polk Neighbors Association, said small-business owners are losing sales, children are missing out on sleep and tourists are driven out of nearby hotels by the incessant ruckus brimming from the constant flow of fire engines.

Pedersen and his group want to know why it’s necessary to dispatch two vehicles, sometimes three, for medical situations.

“Why do we have a fire truck carrying 500 gallons of water helping out somebody having a health problem?” Pedersen said. “It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money, a burden on our environment and an unnecessary attack against our senses.”

Pedersen and his colleagues will get a chance to air their grievances Tuesday as fire officials, including Chief Joanna Hayes-White and Deputy Chief Richard Kochevar, are slated to meet with neighborhood residents at the Congregational Church at 6:30 p.m to discuss the matter.

After the 1997 merger between the fire department and the emergency response elements of the Department of Public Health, all San Francisco fire engines were equipped with a bevy of life-saving equipment — including defibrillators, paramedic kits and backboards — making them an indispensable asset for response teams, Talmadge said.

According to Talmadge, the department’s standard response is to send one ambulance and one engine to all emergency calls. Occasionally larger trucks, carrying ladders, are called if necessary. Because the department has 42 engines, deployed from stations across The City that are generally no more than a mile apart, response teams are able to reach their intended target in minutes, Talmadge said.

For operators using the fire engines and trucks, there is no protocol for sounding off the air horn — which can reach 140 decibels — other than situational discretion, Talmadge said.

The lack of guidelines for the noisy instruments is what has the neighborhood up in arms, Pedersen said.

“I live next to a park and I see these children holding their ears all the time,” Pedersen said. “How much can they take of this before it permanently damages them?”

wreisman@examiner.com

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