TULSA, Okla. – You're in the car and you've got the radio cranked up insanely loud. Chances are, you're not going to hear that ambulance siren wailing behind you.
Soon, even if you can't hear it, you'll be able to feel when an emergency vehicle is coming.
Oklahoma's largest ambulance company will become the first ambulance service in the nation to outfit its entire fleet with new Howler sirens, designed to emit low-frequency tones that penetrate objects within 200 feet — such as cars — to alert drivers.
The Emergency Medical Services Authority has equipped one ambulance with the new siren and plans to have them installed on all 77 units in Oklahoma within six months.
Officials say the sirens are ideal for cutting through a sea of traffic, and give emergency responders another tool to let drivers know an ambulance is heading their way.
So far this year, EMSA vehicles have been involved in 16 intersection accidents, typically caused by an unyielding driver. Fifteen of those times, the ambulances were on a call, said EMSA spokeswoman Tina Wells.
"The most frequent thing motorists say to us is they didn't see the ambulance coming," Wells said at a Tuesday news conference, where the new technology was demonstrated.
During the demonstration, two ambulances were parked near each other. A plastic stepladder with three glasses of liquid on top was placed in between the vehicles.
The ambulance without the Howler sounded its siren and produced its familiar wail. Then, the Howler, which produced booms that sounded like a 1980s video game played at an earsplitting level. The liquids in the three glasses rippled. Wells jokingly said the new sirens sounded like "a vacuum cleaner on steroids."
"It's going to make going through intersections much safer," said Tulsa Police Officer Mike Avey, who has worked traffic accidents. "People are on their cell phones, people have $1,000 sound systems. You're going to feel it."
The new sirens cost less than $400 each, meaning the entire EMSA fleet can be outfitted for less than $40,000, Wells said.
"A moderate accident is going to cost $15,000 in body damage alone," Wells said. "We see the potential for recouping this almost immediately."