FDNY PRE-PA300 SIRENS

CHIEFOPS

Senior Member
Question was posed in another thread but was deleted as off topic-
what siren(s) were used prior to the PA300.

As I recall FDNY began phasing out the mechanical 28s in the early 80s due to new NYC noise codes, to the best of my memory they primarily used PA200s and to a lesser extent Motorola Systems 90 or Syntor sirens until they settled on the PA300s.
 
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classifieds869294

Established Member
Thanks for reviving this topic. I’ll post some old videos I found on YouTube of pre-PA300 FDNY trucks responding tonight. Here’s an on-topic mystery I’ve never been able to solve, does anyone know what siren this very old communication truck is running? I’ve also seen a couple of spare rigs with what sounded like an identical manual tone:

 

Wailer

Veteran Member
That begs another question. Did FDNY always use the manual button when they ran electronic sirens?
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
Here are some vintage rig videos I've found on YouTube. This first one is pure PA200:


At the 2:40 mark, a ladder passes by and I'm not sure if it's running a PA200 or Motorola:

 

classifieds869294

Established Member
That begs another question. Did FDNY always use the manual button when they ran electronic sirens?
It seems to have varied, colloquially I can say that growing up in the 90's I would hear a lot of responses with them just running wail and yelp, and in the later years they seem to have mostly just used manual. Looking at various response videos seems to confirm that.


On the few units that still run PA300's, it's super rare to see them run anything but manual. I did see a MERV last week that didn't, though.
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
Here’s another head scratcher for me. Have no idea what that manual tone on E263 is from. It sounds a lot like the communications unit video I shared in February. I heard this same manual tone on a spare unit Ladder 2 used for a short while two years ago. It remains a total mystery.

 

Wailer

Veteran Member
Here’s another head scratcher for me. Have no idea what that manual tone on E263 is from. It sounds a lot like the communications unit video I shared in February. I heard this same manual tone on a spare unit Ladder 2 used for a short while two years ago. It remains a total mystery.

To my ears, the manual tone on E263 sounds like a PA200. The other siren sounds like a PA300.
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
To my ears, the manual tone on E263 sounds like a PA200. The other siren sounds like a PA300.
Definitely right about the ladder.

You’re probably right about the engine too, but for the life of me I can’t find a clip of a PA200 that has a manual tone with such a long incredible wind down. It’s usually much shorter and higher pitched. Perhaps there were multiple variants of the 200 too, or even a specific configuration that the FDNY used.
 

Wailer

Veteran Member
Definitely right about the ladder.

You’re probably right about the engine too, but for the life of me I can’t find a clip of a PA200 that has a manual tone with such a long incredible wind down. It’s usually much shorter and higher pitched. Perhaps there were multiple variants of the 200 too, or even a specific configuration that the FDNY used.
They probably all sound the same when they leave the factory but with normal wear and tear and aging of components (e.g. resistors and capacitors) there will be some variation in sound from one siren to another.
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
They probably all sound the same when they leave the factory but with normal wear and tear and aging of components (e.g. resistors and capacitors) there will be some variation in sound from one siren to another.
Perhaps, but I’ve heard that specific tone in person a few times on totally different trucks. They’re all probably worn to hell and several decades old, but it seems too coincidental that they’d all have that distinct sound. Oh well, short of buying a ton of PA200’s I don’t think we can be 100% certain.
 

Wailer

Veteran Member
Perhaps, but I’ve heard that specific tone in person a few times on totally different trucks.
If it's the same department, it could be either one of three possibilities:
1) The siren is not made by Federal
2) It could be different model of Federal siren (not a PA200 or PA300)
3) Or it could be a custom made PA200 for FDNY
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
That’s a good summation. I might have one more addition...

Check out the manual tone on this PA300 (hard to hear because he’s messing with the horn constantly), specifically the wind down. It’s sounds pretty similar to the E263 and old communications truck I posted earlier. Thoughts?

 

Wailer

Veteran Member
That’s a good summation. I might have one more addition...

Check out the manual tone on this PA300 (hard to hear because he’s messing with the horn constantly), specifically the wind down. It’s sounds pretty similar to the E263 and old communications truck I posted earlier. Thoughts?

Yep, it could be a PA300.
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
The siren sound at the end was dubbed in. It's a 1960s vintage Federal electronic siren.
It's been the same siren sound that I've been trying to identify throughout the last few videos I've posted. It really does sound like the early fed sig sirens. I highly doubt anything was dubbed in considered how prevalent it is in these 80’s FDNY clips I’ve seen
 

Wailer

Veteran Member
It's been the same siren sound that I've been trying to identify throughout the last few videos I've posted. It really does sound like the early fed sig sirens. I highly doubt anything was dubbed in considered how prevalent it is in these 80’s FDNY clips I’ve seen
I'm thinking of the siren sound at the very end. The siren in my avatar is an example - Federal PA20A series 2D, circa 1969. It has a deep slow rising wail tone. Where I live the city FD had three Ford C-series pumpers outfitted by Thibault in 1971 and they were equipped with PA20A series 2Ds. The sirens were originally connected to Federal CJ184 speaker/lights and sounded very good with them, but during the 1980s the CJs were replaced with light bars. I think the last truck was retired in 1992.
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
This is truly my white whale, I regularly scan older videos and random clips on YouTube to no avail.

The only thing I can add to thread is that it seems to be something that was introduced to the FDNY in the mid-80s. Videos older than that seem to only have mechanical sirens and PA20A/200-sounding tones. Later 80’s and early 90’s videos seem to have a mix of the "NY" PA300 that we all recognize, the aforementioned PA200, and this mystery tone. I suspect it's a PA300 variant but cannot be certain until l hear one that's a dead ringer.

I’ve asked the same question on nycfire and didn’t get much, although someone mentioned Motorola sirens (syntor or systems 90) like ChiefOps has.

No luck on finding any clips of older Motorolas other than very old and odd sounding models, or more recent spectra sirens.
 

Wailer

Veteran Member
I watched the FDNY July 4th 1980s video again. The siren heard from 4:01 to 4:09 is a 1970s Federal electronic (likely PA15A series 1E, PA20A series 2E, or PA200). I have two that sound exactly like that.
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
I watched the FDNY July 4th 1980s video again. The siren heard from 4:01 to 4:09 is a 1970s Federal electronic (likely PA15A series 1E, PA20A series 2E, or PA200). I have two that sound exactly like that.
Really!? I would love to hear those if you could please record a clip. That beautiful slow winddown on the manual has been so hard to find. This is my PA20A 1E, I thought the manual always sounds like on these models:

 

Wailer

Veteran Member
Okay, I listened to it once more and I think I found something that sounds closer to what you are describing but it's a lot older. The manual setting has a longer and deeper wind down.

 

classifieds869294

Established Member
The manual does kind of sound like the pre-20A directors and interceptors. And it doesn't seem too outlandish that a late 60's early 70's siren would be in service 15-20 years later. Speaking of old, the first tap of the manual button in this clip is nearly a dead ringer. But it's impossible to imagine such an ancient siren being in use, perhaps similar circuitry in a newer model:


Here is another clip I found with mystery wail and yelp, might help or confuse even more haha. Check out 00:10, 00:49, 2:43, and 3:49:

 
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CHIEFOPS

Senior Member
I am positively convinced that the PA1 with original factory capacitators here was the siren dubbed-in as Engine 51's mechanical siren.

 
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Wailer

Veteran Member
I am positively convinced that the PA1 with original factory capacitators here was the siren dubbed-in as Engine 51's mechanical siren.

All the dubbed in sirens I remember hearing on Emergency! were:

Federal PA20 (not PA20A) - Squad 51
B&M S-8 - ambulances and first engine 51 (Crown)
Federal Q series - second engine 51 (Ward LaFrance)

To my ears, the PA-1 sounds closer to a Federal eQ2b. The first version of the PA5 sounds similar.
 
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CHIEFOPS

Senior Member
1. I only remember one scene where the Squad dials up the wail to follow ambulance from the scene to Rampart where it's clearly a Federal siren of that era, otherwise it's always a sound effects department creation of a siren cycling in manual, same as Adam-12.
2. Yes, you can discern some of the ambulances are running B&Ms.
3. The Ward Engine 51's siren (when the squad's wasn't mistakenly dubbed-in) sounds nothing like a Q to me, it positively sounds like a factory PA-1 with a slightly lower (possibly modified) pitch. No way that's a real Q.
 

Wailer

Veteran Member
it's always a sound effects department creation of a siren cycling in manual, same as Adam-12.
No, it's not sound effects. That's a recording of a Federal PA20 running in manual mode. The PA20 has wail, yelp, and alert tones and was manufactured from about 1962 to 1966.


Ward Engine 51's siren sounds nothing like a Q to me
If it's not a Q it could be a 28 or a 66. The siren sounds mechanical to my ears. Also, when sirens are recorded the microphone and recording equipment can alter the sound, especially in terms of where the microphone is placed.
 
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CHIEFOPS

Senior Member
Sorry, not convinced that's an Interceptor, and definitely not a Q let alone a 28/66.
Listen to the youtube clip of the unrestored PA-1 you'll see why I think that was the substitute Engine 51 mechanical siren. The PA-1 is probably the only electronic siren that actually sounds like a mechanical which was probably the intention in the early days of electronic sirens.
 

Wailer

Veteran Member
1. I only remember one scene where the Squad dials up the wail to follow ambulance from the scene to Rampart where it's clearly a Federal siren of that era, otherwise it's always a sound effects department creation of a siren cycling in manual, same as Adam-12.
The Squad 51/Adam-12 siren is a Federal PA20.

As for the Ward LaFrance pumper, think what you want, but to my ears the siren sounds mechanical.

By the way the first version of the Director (PA5) sounds like a PA1.
 
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CHIEFOPS

Senior Member
The Squad 51/Adam-12 siren is a Federal PA20.
Not buying it. Could be a PA-10 in manual.

As for the Engine, listen to a clip of an un-restored PA-1, a clip from the tv show, and a Q, the PA-1 cycles identically to the Engine's "mechanical" siren, even sounds mechanical, while the Q has a higher pitch.
 

Wailer

Veteran Member
Not buying it. Could be a PA-10 in manual.
A lot of people get the PA20 confused with the PA20A, both of which are very different sirens. And there are also two major variations of the PA20A that sound totally different from each other.

I have a PA20, a PA20A series 2D, and a PA20A series 2E, and all three sirens have completely different circuit boards and do not sound in any way similar to each other. The PA20 sounds closest to the Adam-12/Squad 51 siren, while the PA20A 2D and 2E don't sound anything like it.
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
I’m working on getting a cheap Motorola Systems 90 to see what that sounds like, considering it’s been mentioned as something the FDNY ran in the past. Hopefully the guy responds
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
No luck on my prior post, plus it seems like piecing together a Motorola siren system would be nightmarish anyways.

Considering some of the clips I’ve seen of this mystery FDNY siren are from 1985 or apparatus from that year, that would put us squarely in silver face PA300 territory. Has anyone ever heard one that didn’t have the same tones as the video below? I’ve heard a variance in pitches/speed but the same, otherwise. It doesn’t sound like our mystery siren, but rather the later typical FDNY PA300.


The reason I ask is because that alone could eliminate the PA300, which had been my #1 guess. At least it would eliminate a standard, off the shelf version of it.
 

classifieds869294

Established Member
Wow, was scouring old NYC footage for a different project and happened upon two fantastic high quality clips from 1988.

One is a ladder company running an unknown wail, I can’t make out which company. Perhaps a spare. Time stamp is 01:43.

Second is Rescue 1 running an unknown yelp at 05:20.

 

classifieds869294

Established Member
Here’s one of Engine 9 responding in 1986. We finally get to hear wail and yelp coming from the same unit. The wail has always sounded like something from Fed Sig. The yelp has always thrown me for a loop. It appears at the 04:21 mark:


Engine 54 and Ladder 9 responding in 1989. The engine is running a PA200. Begins at the 05:50 mark:

 
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