How big a deal is it to live near a fire station?
May 12, 2014 3:40 PM   Subscribe

Based on your experience, do you think we are going to regret buying a home near a fire station?

We're considering an offer on a single-family home that's around the corner from a fire station. This is in an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood in a mid-size town on the peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area. The fire station (currently) serves only this town, although in the past it has served another adjacent municipality as well. The street that would be our street is not the entry/exit street that the trucks would roll down. The house is around the corner from the station and about three houses to the rear, on the opposite side of the street. Maybe about 200 feet back? It has newer double-pane windows, which would help with noise.

We're not expecting absolute peace and quiet in any house, but we're concerned about how disruptive noise from the trucks or especially sirens might be. I've never seen fire trucks leaving any station - is it routine to blast sirens as they pull out, or do they usually wait until they are on the road? Again, this is just in your experience - I realize you don't know anything about this particular situation.

We have the thought of trying to check with neighbors, but we're a little time-constrained on our offer. I'm a little unsure of whether people would have an incentive to make their response the happy version of the truth as this type of thing affects their property values.
posted by handful of rain to Home & Garden (40 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I work across the street from a 6-bay fire station and only notice them pulling out if I'm standing next to the open front doors or right next to a window. It might be because I live in Los Angeles, and have learned to relegate sirens to the background hum.
posted by carsonb at 3:43 PM on May 12, 2014

You can always walk up to the fire station (they are open 24 hours a day) and ask the staff what the procedure is for sirens because you are thinking of buying around the corner. My personal experience is that no, sirens are not activated when they pull on the street - only when they are approaching intersections. This may vary with municipality though.
posted by saucysault at 3:46 PM on May 12, 2014 [5 favorites]

I've lived near a couple of fire stations. Policies seem to vary, but my general experience has been that in more residential areas without a lot of traffic, they will only use the sirens if they need to, although they'll always use lights. In busier areas they are more likely to use the sirens but another factor is probably going to be the physical setup of where the truck pulls out. You can probably tell on streetview if they have a dedicated light or what, and if it's a dedicated light, you're probably fine. It seems like they'd tell you what their policies are if you called the firestation non-emergency line too.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2014

We lived on a street where firetrucks went right. outside. our window. most nights at 3 am. Not fun. Not too annoying for my sleep, but worse on my wife. It was a bottom basement, poorly sealed windows type of place. Lots of horns and flashing lights. I think they probably will hit the horns as they pull out- warns any oncoming traffic.

I suspect after a year or so we might not have noticed at all.
posted by Jacen at 3:47 PM on May 12, 2014

I just moved from .7 miles away from one to maybe .3. You stop hearing them after about a week, even with the windows open.

Unless, of course, you have idiot dogs who have taken up compulsively, unstoppably singing along every. single. time. And one of your dogs can't carry a tune, so while the other two do eerily perfect imitations of sirens, that one sounds like a very upset cow having a fight with a moose in rut. That's pretty annoying.

But I seriously don't hear the sirens until the dogs go off. And it does seem like either there are no fires (I'm in LA, that seems unlikely) or they are not using sirens a lot of the time.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:48 PM on May 12, 2014 [19 favorites]

Just ask the fire station. Walk in and ask whoever is standing there.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:51 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

On the plus side, my understanding is that proximity to a fire station can lower home insurance costs (not sure how it works in CA).
posted by Schielisque at 3:54 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

I live (in a city) right across from a hospital emergency room. Being in a city means that there's a lot of ambient noise, but also that the sirens are near constant. I don't notice them at all. A friend of mine stayed over and was unable to fall asleep because of them.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 3:56 PM on May 12, 2014

I lived halfway down a block from a fire station for three years. At the end of my block was a stoplight so it seemed like they were blowing the horn right in front of my window. Any time of the day, couple times a week it would be between 3am and 6am.

But I live in a college town, and the apt had single pane windows (and I doubt there was much insulation left in the walls; didn't feel like it in the winter). Probably made the problem much worse than for most people. It certainly disrupted my sleep, and I never got used to it.

On the plus side it was fun to listen to them practice the bagpipes on the weekend.

I wouldn't live that close again.
posted by sbutler at 3:57 PM on May 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you don't have time to walk in and ask, you can also call their non-emergency number.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 3:59 PM on May 12, 2014

I lived about two apartment buildings down from the fire station, in a ~40k person town. Residential neighbourhood. I barely ever heard the sirens, other locations have been worse. I agree with most people here that the sirens often don't come on until they need to get people out of the way.

I did notice, though, that it meant that the lights at the corner where the station was would go double-red - whenever the trucks were going out of the station, the lights block all traffic. Not really problem-causing.

And yeah, pipers!
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:07 PM on May 12, 2014

I've lived near three over the past 15 years, and it's never been an issue.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:11 PM on May 12, 2014

We lived 2 blocks from a fire station for 6 years. They generally headed up the perpendicular main road, but occasionally came down our side road (thankfully including the night the house next door burned down). Our house was about 10 feet from the street, and our bedroom window faced towards the station, but I really was not bothered by the sirens.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:16 PM on May 12, 2014

I live directly next door to one and it has brought me so much peace of mind that I am semi considering doing it again the next time I move. I say that as a sound sensitive person who finds car sounds annoying. My city is fairly active with emergencies and the sirens don't bother me nearly as much as I thought they might. YMMV
posted by Hermione Granger at 4:17 PM on May 12, 2014

I think this depends on where you've lived in the past and maybe your sleep patterns. I've spent nine of the last ten years living close to fire stations (two years a block away, now six years two blocks and along the lone entry/exit road to a station for a year). I'd consider it a non-issue. It's mildly irritating if I've got the window open and am watching TV when a fire engine pulls out (they do sound sirens when pulling out here, but there's always liable to be traffic). Then again, the building at the other end of the ally caught fire a couple years ago when my mom and brother were visiting. We all woke up. None of us woke up enough to realise there were flames 100 yards away. (I woke up, saw blue and red flashing lights, though "Hm... cops." and went back to sleep (I was sick, though). My brother was in the other room and saw orange and didn't figure out it was fire.) The point about a dog barking is a good one. I could imagine small children being upset by sirens too.
posted by hoyland at 4:18 PM on May 12, 2014

I have long-term rented near a firehouse, and other years near a major hospital. Given a choice, I'd pick the fire station every time. If you do hear fire sirens, at least they're trying to leave the area as quickly as they can. Near hospitals, on the other hand, you start hearing the ambulances in the distance and they just keep getting louder. Then there's when they happen: we seem to get more fire alarms in the early evening near supper time, versus the rise in ambulance calls in the wee hours of the night on a long weekend.

Also the fire departments (that I've had experience with) get to use their discretion with the siren if it's the middle of the night with no local traffic; they save that for when they're approaching the incident.
posted by ceribus peribus at 4:23 PM on May 12, 2014

I lived next door to a very busy fire station in Houston for 20 years. I quickly learned to tune out the sirens. The firemen were very conscious of the neighbors and would not turn on their sirens when they left the station at night or if there was no traffic.
posted by Grumpy old geek at 4:27 PM on May 12, 2014

I've lived near a bunch of fire stations, in various cities. In San Francisco I used to live right next door to the Fire Station on Stanyan St. in Cole Valley. They never, ever, used their sirens until they were a few blocks away, at first traffic light. Pulling out of the station was always lights yes, sirens no. The unexpected annoyance was this ad hoc driving range they'd set up behind the fire station- they had hung a bunch of old fire hoses against one wall, painted a target on it, and the firefighters would go out with their golf clubs and drive golf balls into the target. The *thwack* *thwack* *thwacK* would get tiresome, but I hated to complain because I figured they were probably really bored. They were otherwise *awesome* next door neighbors, I have to say.

In New York I lived a block and a half from the fire station, downstream on the one-way street. This was a bigger pain because huge chunks of on-street parking were reserved for the Fire Department. Occasionally the fire trucks would be headed uptown, and just plow through Lexington Avenue like a salmon swimming upstream the one block up to 86th. With all the horns blaring, obviously. They didn't do that very often, though.

I lived about 500 feet from a fire station in the Berkeley Hills and never heard a peep out of them.

tl;dr: it depends a lot on traffic flows, and if the fire department is likely to go down your street leaving the station, or away from it, and whether or not you have traffic lights nearby. From how you describe it, I wouldn't worry about it if I were you.
posted by ambrosia at 4:35 PM on May 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, more generally as a Peninsula resident, I can assure you that if your neighbors were troubled by noise from the fire department, someone would be complaining about it, as the sense of entitlement runs pretty thick around here.
posted by ambrosia at 4:39 PM on May 12, 2014

I live down the street from a busy urban fire station. It's...not bad. You get used to it, it's not as loud or frequent as you expect, and hey, if you have a fire, they're right there! Honestly, I feel like it keeps crime down a little bit too, because there are big firedudes hanging out 24-7. Our neighbors' dog howls like crazy when the fire truck goes by - that is actually a far bigger drawback than the sirens since it's right next door.

I might have hesitated to buy the house if I'd thought about it, but that would not have reflected the actual experience.
posted by Frowner at 4:49 PM on May 12, 2014

I lived across from a fire station for three years in college. I don't recall having any serious noise issues...but when our apartment building caught fire, there were trucks and hoses and firefighters there before I even knew there was a fire. I still experience a palpable sense of relief remembering the near-instant arrival of the fire crew. Our apartment would have been the next one to go up in flames in the building, and I'm pretty sure our proximity to the fire station is the thing that saved it. So I think living by a station is a big deal in a good way!
posted by ootandaboot at 4:59 PM on May 12, 2014

I'm a few blocks down from a fire station, and they have a policy of not turning on their sirens for (I think) a six block radius. We very rarely hear them, though I have heard neighbors who live a block further and sleep with windows open mention sirens occasionally.

On the plus side, response time for paramedics is pretty much supersonic. By the time you finish giving 911 your address, they have arrived.
posted by instamatic at 5:10 PM on May 12, 2014

Honestly, they're nice neighbors and perhaps a bit of a deterrent to crime since they're out and about at all hours. Our old house was near the station and near the intersection of the street the trucks used to go South. We rarely heard them at all.

Also, if you have pets you might stop by and ask if they have pet oxygen masks. We've made donations to purchase those for our local station when we lived near the firehouse.
posted by 26.2 at 5:15 PM on May 12, 2014

My wife and I lived in an apartment a block away from a 2-bay fire station in downtown San Francisco. I never got used to the sirens. Actually, they drove me nuts - like punching strangers, yelling at co-workers nuts. Basket-case nuts. I couldn't handle it.

posted by Pecinpah at 5:25 PM on May 12, 2014

I've lived on the same corner as a fire station in Oakland for 3 years and I've never heard them roll out with sirens blazing, ever. It is a complete non-issue for me. My neighbors dog is more annoying.
posted by bradbane at 5:31 PM on May 12, 2014

I lived directly across the street from a fire station for 3 years. For me, it was no big deal. As many posters have said already, there is generally very little requirement for the use of the siren in the wee small hours. If you and your family are generally sound sleepers, I would not be overly concerned. You will tune out the noise of the trucks pretty quickly. After the first couple of weeks, I was woken up only once by the fire brigade in the rest of the 3 years. If any of you are sensitive to noise, I would perhaps rethink it, depending on the general expectation of the number of callouts per night.
posted by Jakey at 5:50 PM on May 12, 2014

I live about three blocks from one in LA. It doesn't bug me too much. I don't think they use their sirens right as they pull out, but they do turn them on pretty soon, so I do definitely hear it. It rarely wakes me up or really impinges on my personal sound bubble beyond it being background noise, except when they go right past me. To be honest, I'm way more bothered by the LAPD being so chopper happy. I hate the noise of helicopters hovering over my neighborhood.
posted by yasaman at 6:14 PM on May 12, 2014

The fine firefighters at the 4th Ave station in San Mateo often ran only lights (no sirens) on the trucks at night if they were headed into the neighborhood. (Our house was a long block and a half from the station.) It did not bother me. (Caltrain was more bothersome, noise-wise; it was not very bothersome.)

If you're interested in frequency of incidents, look at Fire Dispatch. It's always what's happening right now, but it's usually not too busy. (If you do buy the house, it will be irresistible to check it every time you hear sirens.)
posted by purpleclover at 6:50 PM on May 12, 2014

You might also find this article, about people living in seemingly undesirable locations (like literally right next to a set of train tracks), useful.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:49 PM on May 12, 2014

I lived across the street from a firehouse for 3 years. Our street was residential. The sirens were never used when they were coming out of the garage. They only used the sirens at the intersection onto a highway, and that was on a as need basis.

During a dry spell everyone's grass was dying. People would run sprinklers all day long (no water restrictions), yet the grass still looked brown and burned. The lawn in front of the firehouse was lush and green, yet I never saw a sprinkler! One day I was outside and saw one of the firemen attach a 10 ft fire hose to the fire hydrant in their front yard. He soaked the yard with the fire hose in less than 5 minuets. I called to him and said that is not fair! He laughed and waved. They make great neighbors! Never any wild parties, the yard is always immaculate. Trash cans are never left out by the curb.

I would not hesitate to purchase a house near a fire house.
posted by JujuB at 10:41 PM on May 12, 2014

I lived in an apartment literally across the street from a fire station for five years. They pretty much always used the siren when pulling out.

Honestly, I got used to it. The sirens only last a couple seconds before they're too far away to hear and it's not like a station has 20 trucks that all go out in a row. And it's sorta comforting to know that the station is right there in case something happens.
posted by rq at 10:53 PM on May 12, 2014

We live around the corner from an active fire station. We hear them a few times a day but rarely pay much attention, and they don't wake us up at night. The bigger related issue is if our neighbors dogs are outside (almost every day all day) they go apeshit if they hear them and take longer to settle down. One big upshot is that we're on the same part of the power grid and if the power ever goes out, getting it running to that part of the grid is the top priority.
posted by marylynn at 11:04 PM on May 12, 2014

I rented an apt about 1/4-1/3 mile from a fire station a few years ago.
Sirens and lights weren't an issue but this particular station announced the time twice a day (9AM & 9 PM) with what basically sounded like a tugboat horn to me.

I got used to it after a while but for the first few weeks/months I'd jump at the 9PM horn. I can't imagine what it was like for the folks that lived directly across the street.
posted by eatcake at 4:30 AM on May 13, 2014

I once lived about two blocks down the street from a firehouse. My particular street was the one they used as a main cross-street to a major thoroughfare, so we got a lot of screaming trucks speeding past at all hours. You'd be amazed how quickly you get used to it. The same with the train tracks we lived near a few years later. It just becomes part of the atmosphere. It's like the Talking Heads tune "Cities"...

The sound of gunfire
off in the distance
I'm getting used to it now

Now, if you have a dog or other such pet, it may never get used to it.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:02 AM on May 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived half a kilometer from one of our city's main fire stations for three years and the trucks often went past our house with sirens blazing. In a very short time, I barely even noticed it. I'm a heavy sleeper so it never woke me up, nor did any of our roommates ever complain about it.

For what it's worth, my roommates had a dog and it didn't seem to bother him either.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:23 AM on May 13, 2014

One big upshot is that we're on the same part of the power grid and if the power ever goes out, getting it running to that part of the grid is the top priority.

marylynn has a good point here. I've never lived close to a fire station but I have lived very close to the Pentagon and our power NEVER went out. Never. Not even during Snowmageddon. I didn't know how great this was until we moved a little further from the Pentagon and now we have power outages.
posted by bijou243 at 8:17 AM on May 13, 2014

I live near a fire apartment in a mid-sized town on the peninsula (San Mateo), literally right across the street and I've yet to hear much of anything at all. Honestly the train that's 3 blocks away causes more noise on a consistent basis and I've already tuned that out. Plus the apartment is from the 60's so no nice double paned glass or anything like that.
posted by Carillon at 9:03 AM on May 13, 2014

I lived across the street from a fire station. When the fire engines were heading out they'd pull onto the driveway right outside my bedroom window, practically bumping into the building, with the lights flashing. I got used to it, and the sirens, and the sirens from the busy ER on the corner, surprisingly quickly.

I think you're far enough away that it's not going to be a problem.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:07 AM on May 13, 2014

I live down the street from a busy urban fire station. It's...not bad.

Same here. I hear the sirens maybe a few times a week. They run for 30 seconds tops while trying to get to and past our intersection. I don't have dogs though, so the singalong might be tiresome if you do.
posted by psoas at 9:14 AM on May 13, 2014

Twice, in different towns, I've lived about a block from a fire station. Both fire stations were pretty quiet on the whole, but how light a sleeper you are is going to make a big difference.
posted by yohko at 2:43 PM on May 13, 2014

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