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Jenn Ireland / The Californian

A patient is unloaded from an ambulance outside the Kern Medical Center Emergency Room in this June 2009 photo.

Q: I'm very upset that the emergency vehicle sirens are blowing out my dog's eardrums. It doesn't make sense to include such high-frequency noises in these sirens.

-- Beau Ruiz

Hall Ambulance spokesman Scott Allen told us that Hall's emergency sirens and their use are regulated by the federal Transportation Department, and mandated by the California Highway Patrol. That includes testing, decibel levels and frequencies.

"We're sorry to hear that the writer's dog is having problems," Allen said. "Dogs don't like sirens, but I've never heard of an issue of medical problems caused by emergency vehicle sirens."

Dr. Ann Hamilton of Affordable Animal Hospital said that when dogs hear sirens and howl, she doubts it's out of pain but is merely a response to the sound. And she noted that not every dog reacts to sirens.

"I can't imagine (emergency service providers) would include anything in their frequencies something that would hurt a pet," Hamilton said. "Are some dogs more sensitive? Yes. Is it causing pain to dogs as a group? No."

Still, there's no question that sirens can be jarring.

"We go to great lengths so that our ambulances can be well-seen as well as heard," Hall's Allen said. "Most folks who fail to yield (tell police) that they didn't hear it, didn't see it. We don't want that to be an issue."

Q: Central Valley residents have a strong interest in air quality. I witnessed two incidents in the past week involving large businesses here that make me cringe.

One was with a large diesel-powered PG&E truck, driven by a man who came by to make a three-year check of a transformer near my home. He was there about 20 minutes and all the while, his truck idled.

The other is my local USPS delivery person. Mailboxes are 75-100 feet apart in my neighborhood. My mail delivery person drives one of those American General trucks on his/her rounds. Every day, I can hear as the truck approaches mailboxes near my home. The driver shuts the engine off, jumps out, puts mail in the box, and then gets back in and starts the engine. Drive 75 feet, shut off the engine, put mail in the box, get in and start the engine ... over and over and over again.

I am not a mechanic nor an expert on air quality, but I don't think either activity is good for the air or the engine parts. I understand that idling a diesel for a short time makes more sense than stopping and starting it, but 20 minutes seems like a long time to idle. And certainly, starting a small gas engine every 45 seconds or so takes more gas and creates more pollution than simply letting it run the entire time. (Better would be for the carrier to shut the engine down and walk both sides of the block he/she is working.)

Shouldn't the air pollution control board have an interest in these kinds of activities?

A: Ana Reyes, bilingual outreach and communications representative with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, tackled this one:

"Idling vehicles, in general, are a major concern to us as they do emit a lot of pollution, and idling trucks emit even more. That is why the California Air Resources Board does have a statewide rule that restricts trucks from idling. Even though the valley air district regulates only stationary sources, we do enforce ARB's truck-idling rule on a complaint basis, so if residents call one of our complaint lines when they see an idling truck, one of our inspectors will investigate the complaint.

"We have three complaint lines: North (San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced counties), 800-281-7003; Central (Madera, Fresno and Kings counties), 800-870-1037; and South (Tulare County and the valley portion of Kern County), 800-926-5550.

"ARB also has its own complaint line: 800-END-SMOG (800-363-7664).

"As far as restarting an engine after a short period of time, generally it is better to leave it running if the time elapsed is so brief. However, the Postal Service may have its own policy on that. (As an interesting side note, USPS just rolled out a fleet of 100 all-electric trucks, which were manufactured in Stockton and funded by several agencies including the EPA, the ARB and the air district. They are in use in Sacramento, Ceres, Bakersfield, Fresno and San Bernardino.)"

Lynda La Force, acting postmaster for Bakersfield, said Postal Service policy requires drivers who leave a vehicle to turn off the ignition and set the hand brake -- no exceptions.

"Being outside the vehicle while it's running, even for just a few seconds, is a perfect recipe for a rollaway vehicle," La Force said.

Katie Allen, local spokeswoman for PG&E, also responded to the issue:

"For more than two decades, we have actively incorporated more efficient and sustainable transportation technologies into our vehicle fleet. We are partnering with our bucket truck manufacturer to develop and test a first-of-its-kind, plug-in battery-powered system. At the job site, the battery quietly and efficiently powers the truck's hydraulic lift and heating and cooling equipment -- avoiding the need to idle the vehicle.

"As we continue to incorporate these new vehicles into our fleet, there are times when both gas and electric crewmembers must keep their trucks idling to either power their equipment or operate their compressor."

Ask The Californian appears on Mondays. Submit questions to or to The Bakersfield Californian, c/o Christine Bedell, P.O. Bin 440, Bakersfield, CA 93302.