“Siren relief” law debuts Tuesday

A Fire Department ambulance in downtown Chicago | H. Michael Miley via Flickr

By Steven Dahlman • Loop North News

Siren noise in downtown Chicago will be reduced “dramatically” when a new state law takes effect on Tuesday, according to a city alderman who helped craft the legislation.

42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly worked with 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins and State Representative Christian Mitchell on a bill limiting the use of sirens on emergency vehicles. The bill was signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on August 19. Ambulances and rescue vehicles will be allowed to operate a siren “only when it is reasonably necessary to warn pedestrians and other drivers of the approach thereof while responding to an emergency call or transporting a patient.”

“Excessive siren noise has been a major concern for downtown residents,” wrote Reilly in his newsletter recently. He says he researched existing laws and found that in cities comparable to Chicago, emergency vehicle sirens are typically exempt from local noise ordinances. That is why, he explained, a state law was necessary.

At a meeting in October of Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, which supported the bill in the Illinois General Assembly, Reilly said discussions with Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police Department had resulted in policy that limits use of sirens by city vehicles to emergency situations.

“You’ll hear their sirens if they’re rushing to a serious emergency but otherwise, they’ve shown a lot of restraint by tooting their way through intersections when necessary,” said Reilly. “They understand that these are noises that get louder the higher up you live.”

The problem, says Reilly, is with private ambulance companies that use sirens in their vehicles even in situations that are not emergencies.

“The real bad actors, unfortunately, are the private ambulance companies,” said Reilly. “They’re rolling the sirens for convenience and to get places faster.”

According to Reilly, most private ambulances using their siren are transporting organs – and not for time-sensitive procedures.

Streeterville Organization of Active Residents welcomed the new law and said it had been advocating reduction of excessive siren noise for years. Sirens are especially an issue in Streeterville because Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Lurie Children’s Hospital are located there.

“We are aware that training is necessary for first responders to comply with the new [law] but are confident that noise levels will be lowered,” wrote SOAR on Dec. 6th.

Although it is a state law, it will apply only to Chicago – or specifically, any city in Illinois with a population of at least one million.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com