Monday, November 30, 2015         


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Come September, ambulances will reduce the sound of sirens

By June Watanabe


Question: Why are ambulances and fire trucks blasting their sirens while turning the corner of Kapahulu and Kuhio avenues in the late night hours and early morning hours when there is no traffic? The noisy sound bellows up within the residential area of condos. They never blasted their sirens before while turning that corner.

Answer: The noise from ambulance sirens, at least, should be lessened at night — and day — throughout Oahu come September, when the city Emergency Medical Services Division implements a new “Emergency Vehicle Operations” policy to allow EMS crews to transport nonemergency cases without sirens blaring.

We addressed the issue of noisy sirens in 2007 — Back then, Patricia Dukes, chief of the city Emergency Medical Services Division, explained that the state Traffic Code mandates emergency vehicles responding to an emergency to turn on both lights and sirens.

But EMS had been allowing ambulances to respond to low-priority calls without having to turn on the warning devices and Dukes said she was hoping to reduce unnecessary siren noise even more.

She was advised by city attorneys that the Traffic Code did not need to be changed to institute the new policy, which will direct paramedics to transport patients with “minor or stable” conditions to hospitals without lights and sirens.

“It’s a guideline,” Dukes said, although the ambulance crews will have to justify their use of sirens.

Dukes previously explained that city ambulances were responding to emergency 911 calls 90 percent “hot” — with lights and sirens — and 10 percent “cold” — in nonemergency mode. ­She said that percentage hasn’t changed and should not change much when ambulances are responding to calls. But the percentage is expected to change when patients are transported to hospitals. By then, most will have been stabilized and it’s not necessary to transport them with lights and sirens, Dukes said.

The new policy will not just enhance safety by reducing the risk of an accident to both the public and ambulance crew, it also is “another attempt to do our part to reduce noise pollution.”

She noted again that studies have shown sirens aren’t effective in warning drivers because vehicles have been better soundproofed and many are enveloped in a cocoon with air conditioning and stereo system going. Meanwhile, pedestrians and residents are deafened by the noise.

Dukes said the new policy won’t be implemented until all paramedics and technicians have been trained.

We will explain the Honolulu Fire Department’s policy in a future column.

Q: What is the law pertaining to noise violations involving leaf-blowers and weed whackers? We have neighbors who are using their weed whackers and leaf-blowers at 7 p.m. Sundays.

A: The law only pertains to leaf-blowers — not weed whackers or other yard-cleaning equipment — being used in or within 100 feet of a residential area.

It restricts their use to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays and state or federal holidays. Government entities are exempt from the law.

Since the law took effect a year ago, the state Department of Health’s noise section has received only 10 complaints statewide, said Craig Nishihara, environmental health specialist.

When a complaint is received, investigators will contact the property owner or company and “remind them of the law and remind them that if complaints should continue, we will take enforcement (action),” he said. “So far, there have been no citations given.”

Call the noise section at 586-4700 during regular work hours. After hours and weekends, Nishihara said to call police (at 911). See


Write to “Kokua Line” at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email

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