The news is out to get us!
March 6, 2007 11:08 AM   Subscribe

What is that alarm-like sound that you hear in the background when the news is showing footage of fires. (This question is not as stupid as it looks... look inside)

Okay, On 9/11 they showed a LOT of footage (obviously) of burning buildings and in the background you could hear a very distinct high-pitched high-to-low double-wailing alarm (I have NO idea how to describe it besides that). It was the first time I remember hearing this sound and I assumed it was the fire alarm annunciator of the towers (before they fell, of course).

Since then I've noticed that when virtually any news station shows footage of a fire, whether it be a small single family home or a high-rise, that sound is always in the background and its always exactly the same tones, pitch, whatever.

Firefighter mefites, news producer mefites, anyone in the know! WHAT IS THIS SOUND?

I'm starting to become convinced that the news stations are adding this in for a pavolvian dramatic effect.
posted by Thrillhouse to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh! and the reason I'm asking NOW is because there was footage on the news a few nights ago where the reporter specifically said that there were no functional smoke detectors in the house- so CLEARLY its not coming from the house!
posted by Thrillhouse at 11:17 AM on March 6, 2007

is it the sound of activated PASS devices?
posted by wearyaswater at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2007

Seconding a PASS device. After 9/11 some news program gave a full rundown of how they work, a simple system that seems pretty useful.

I wonder, though, if the firemen need to keep moving around when they're not inside a burning building so as to not be annoyed by them.
posted by owenkun at 11:25 AM on March 6, 2007

Ah, I should have paid better attention, the Wikipedia entry mentions:

"Older versions were mounted in the SCBA backpack/harness required to many firefighters to perform a 'dance' to keep the device from alarming when waiting assignment at a fire scene."
posted by owenkun at 11:27 AM on March 6, 2007

sidenote: Apparently PASS devices have been failing and causing firefighter deaths, so says MSNBC.
posted by wearyaswater at 11:34 AM on March 6, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, you guys are smartypants. I wish I could find a .wav or something online that proves this but I'm convinced. Thanks for putting this to bed for me! :)
posted by Thrillhouse at 11:37 AM on March 6, 2007

Or perhaps an Outdoor Warning Siren. It sounds like this. [wav file]

I couldn't find a wav online for the PASS device, unfortunately.

It would not surprise me to learn that news stations are using this sound to enhance the drama of a story.
posted by OpinioNate at 11:45 AM on March 6, 2007

The line from wikipedia is very sad: In video from the site of the World Trade Center after the towers fell, the eerie chirping heard is from PASS devices on firefighters trapped in the rubble.

You can hear the sound in the slideshow here.
posted by metaculpa at 11:53 AM on March 6, 2007

metaculpa: You can hear the sound in the slideshow here.

*bow* to your google-fu
posted by OpinioNate at 12:16 PM on March 6, 2007

Response by poster: Actually metaculpa, that ISN'T the sound.... Maybe its another manufacturers? The plot thickens.... It HAS to be that though....
posted by Thrillhouse at 12:27 PM on March 6, 2007

Re: *bow*. Nah, my boredom. Who looks at a picture slideshow hoping it has a voiceover? Me at work, apparently. In any case, I bet it's a manufacturer thing; although why they wouldn't all be the same, I do not know.
posted by metaculpa at 12:53 PM on March 6, 2007

Silly question: it couldn't be the firetrucks' sirens, could it?

a very distinct high-pitched high-to-low double-wailing alarm

Does it sound kind of a repeating nyaaaahhrOOOOOooooooooom, peaking in pitch and volume on the OOOs? Sort of like this (.wav)? Where I grew up, all the towns have fire signals like that, but with more of an open trumpet sound that echoes off the hills. It's to warn the townspeople and to summon the volunteer firefighters.

Can you check out this page (or search for "fire emergency sound effects" or something) and find anything close to what you mean?
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:21 PM on March 6, 2007

This page also has a ton of fire alarm .wavs for your perusal.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:27 PM on March 6, 2007

That sound is very likely activated PASS devices; they were heard in the background of a lot of street-level 9/11 news footage. Different brands do, in fact, produce different sounds, although most are variations on the high-low scream.
posted by itstheclamsname at 5:49 PM on March 6, 2007

Also, it's not terribly rare to hear a PASS device activated in the course of a fire. Usually it's because someone has failed to keep moving enough to prevent the device from going into alarm mode, and didn't recognize that the pre-alarm chirps were coming from their own gear, or has put down their SCBA and forgotten to disarm the PASS device.
posted by itstheclamsname at 6:04 PM on March 6, 2007

It's a low-oxygen alert system. I was a police-beat reporter and heard this all the time and asked. It goes from high to low twice periodically, not oscillating. It goes off a lot outside when oxygen tanks have been removed before they get low, and forgetting to turn the alarm off makes the sound go off.
posted by Quarter Pincher at 10:42 AM on July 10, 2007

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