Why are fire alarms in movies and TV always unrealistic?

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wiley2012
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06 May 2013, 9:27 pm

I've noticed something whenever I would see a movie, TV show or cartoon that involved a scene where a public building was on fire and needed instant evacuation, or a school conducting a fire drill or some other building having the fire alarm pulled (often as a dumb prank), the signals for the fire alarms would almost always be a bell. (More often than not, the school bell is used as the fire alarm.) I think this tends to be HIGHLY unrealistic, because virtually every place here in America I've been to that has a fire alarm system pretty much no longer uses bells for fire alarms! They're almost always buzzers or those screeching ones, and some use voice-evacuation alarms (mostly newer school buildings or other large complexes like hospitals and large libraries use them). Bells may have been more common in America in the past, but now they are being replaced with the newer mentioned alarms.

All public schools I attended when I was younger used the old loud electric buzzers for their fire alarms. My high school's was the loudest, sounding similar to a nuclear meltdown alarm or basketball scoreboard. The elementary school I attended for kindergarten had scarier-sounding Simplex horns that pulsed and flashed red lights. The college I attended (and currently volunteer at) has the newer alarms that screech with flashing strobes, formerly in a long continuous noise, but now pulsing in a temporal code like smoke alarms do.

For example, consider the fire alarm scenes they've done at Springfield Elementary School on "The Simpsons." It's always a bell, and half the time it's the same bell sound they use for the class-change bell! I wonder how the students and teachers are able to tell the bells apart? They don't have strobes there.

I only know of a few TV shows that actually used buzzers for the fire alarms (both cartoons):

A couple of Arthur episodes had fire alarms in them: "D.W. All Fired Up" was about a fire drill at D.W.'s preschool, and they actually used buzzers for fire alarms. I think that was a good idea, since this show is aimed at little kids and often tries to take a realistic approach. And the episode "April 9th" started with Lakewood Elementary School on fire, and they also had buzzers for the fire alarms. I think that was also pretty good, since it would seem more likely for a school to use buzzers for fire alarms, and if the school were on fire the buzzers would sound. And later in the episode, when they go to Mighty Mountain Elementary School, Binky pulls a false fire alarm, and it is again a buzzer, just like D.W.'s preschool and Lakewood Elementary! Do they get all their fire alarm systems from the same company?

The "As Told By Ginger" episode "Cry Wolf" starts off with a fire drill at Lucky Junior High School, and they use buzzers for the fire alarms.

The movie "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" also had a silly voice-evacuation system that had the male voice on the PA system saying "Fire: the untamed element. Giver of warmth. Destroyer of forests. Right now, THIS building is on fire! Leave the building; enact the age-old drama of self-preservation!"

Any comments?



CornerPuzzlePieces
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07 May 2013, 12:47 am

It's probably a law somewhere... something about not screaming fire in a crowded theater.

Basically so everyone knows it isn't a REAL alarm.



thewhitrbbit
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08 May 2013, 8:40 am

Strobes are required by the ADA, but animators don't have to obey the ADA.

As a firefighter, I've heard tons of different alarm sounds. Everything from bells to buzzers to one place with a voice that says "There has been a fire alarm reported in the building."

I'll have to look at the NFPA code to see if there is a rule on the sound.



Spiderpig
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08 May 2013, 10:37 am

CornerPuzzlePieces wrote:
It's probably a law somewhere... something about not screaming fire in a crowded theater.

Basically so everyone knows it isn't a REAL alarm.


That could backfire if people start believing real alarms are like that, especially if they disregard a real one, thinking it’s something else.



wiley2012
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08 May 2013, 12:35 pm

thewhitrbbit wrote:
Strobes are required by the ADA, but animators don't have to obey the ADA.

As a firefighter, I've heard tons of different alarm sounds. Everything from bells to buzzers to one place with a voice that says "There has been a fire alarm reported in the building."

I'll have to look at the NFPA code to see if there is a rule on the sound.


Where I am, bells for fire alarms were probably common back in the 1950s or 1960s, but are now very scares, as most places upgraded to buzzers or the electronic "screeching" ones, or even voice-evacuation.



RubyWings91
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08 May 2013, 6:04 pm

The central school I went to had fire alarms that sounded like the school bels until I was halfway through high school. Then they switched to the obnoxious high pitched buzzers.



ianorlin
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10 May 2013, 5:31 pm

IT can be annoying if your fire alarm sounds similar. I have experiences with something that sounds like a doorbell and is annoying if it sounds too much the same you think someone might be at your door.



54together
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04 Jun 2013, 3:25 pm

At my school, there are bells all around the place, because I go to a big school. Some departments and corridors have a screeching buzzer alarm, while others use the traditional bell alarm (like the ones you hear on movies and TV shows). I don't understand why they can't just order the same kind of bell/buzzer for everywhere in the school.



TheEocene
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04 Jun 2013, 3:36 pm

We still use the ordinary school bell at my school in the U.K.



zer0netgain
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04 Jun 2013, 3:51 pm

Frankly, a real alarm is so loud it would overwhelm the fidelity of the movie/TV soundtrack.



TimmyTurnerFan1
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01 Apr 2014, 2:43 am

Hi, I'm William and I'm new to this site. Maybe more about me later.

I too have noticed that in most cartoons and some TV shows most fire alarms sound like school bells, also like that in some movies, and in some movies like "The Net" (Sandra Bullock as Angela Bennet or Bennit mistaken for Ruth Marx) the fire alarm is a buzzar, and that sound is used for other alarms, like in that Fairly Odd Parents episode "Balance of Flour" where Timmy Turner, my most favorite cartoon character in the world as a matter of fact, goes into Nana Boom Boom's (Jorgen Van Strangle's grandmother) place to get a top secret recipe (I won't give away too much of the episode for those who have not watched it.)


When I was going to East Side Elementary School to finish Kindergarten and go thru 1st grade in Gouverneur, New York, the fire alarm inside the building was like a school bell, in fact the school bell and fire alarm sounded exactly the same, only by physical appearence, the school bells were black while the fire alarms were red with White Strobe lights and outside the building, some fire alarms were continually sounding buzzers, which a hotel we stayed at in Ft. Drum before we left New York also use, same sound only with white strobe lights just like the bell alarms in that school. In West Side school, where I went for second grade, also in Gouverneur, the only fire alarms I saw and heard there were red bells with strobe lights.

A school I went to before east side school and most schools I went to had buzzers. One fire alarm (Rainbow American Elementary School in Ansbach, Germany) sounded like a siren that sounded like a sick or injured cow and it blared through the P.A. system and it didnt come with any stobe lights. The next school I went to for 5th grade had two different fire alarms in two separate buildings, the alarms in the main building sounded like one of Buzz Lightyear's laser sounds (e.g. when Sid accidentally steps on him) and came with red strobe lights that didn't work until later in the school year (I thought they would be rotating lights like on emergency vehicles.) In the other building the fire alarm was a high piercing noise but no strobe lights (Kaiserslautern American Elementary School in Kaiserslautern, Germany just outside Vogelwegh (misspelled) )

The next schools I went to all had white strobe lights, starting in Sembach Middle School in Sembach Air Base, Germany, which had not only the first white strobe lights I'd seen in over 4 years but fire alarms that sounded almost like screaming women (like Ahhh Ahhh Ahhh Ahhh, the A sound as in "as, at, cat, and cast"). The rest of the schools I went to had low pitch fire alarms, although Sierra Vista Middle School in Sierra Vista had one old style bell hanging outside the school library. When I went to Sahuaro High School here in Tucson, where I graduated, there were two fire alarm sounds, but they were both all over the school. One kind of alarm was a continual buzzer with white strobe lights and the other alarm sounded like a police car siren and like at Rainbow School, it blared through the P.A. system but only during fire drills, during false alarms and the real deal, the P.A. alarm wasn't used, I think it was only activated from the office building.

Fire alarms scare me but they're also interesting, especially when they come with strobe lights.

Anyway, I don't really care much how fire alarms on cartoons, T.V. shows and movies sound, I just wish they came with strobe lights, especially in cartoons, otherwise they're boring and I now imagine strobe lights on cartoons.

I too saw the two Arthur episodes D.W. All Fired Up and April 9th and noticed the fire alarms were Buzzers, must be like that all over Elwood City, although when Lakewood was on fire, in addition to the buzzer, there was also s ringing bell. But like with other cartoons, these also would have been better with strobe lights but that's just my personal opinion. So I wrote my own story about Lakewood Elementary School having. Fire Drill and posted it on FanFiction Dot Net (cannot post URLs so I hope you know to put the sign dot (.) not the word dot). It is titled A Fire Drill at Lakewood and it is in the Cartoons, Arthur, category. And I included strobe lights in the story.

In my opinion, all fire alarms should come with strobe lights whether it's an old building or new building and they should be white or else red. And they should be included on TV shows, movies, and even cartoons, although I guess it's harder and more complicated and time consuming to do on cartoons like putting 5 fingers on characters instead of just four, and I likd it better when cartoon characters have 5 fingers but that's just me.

However many new buildings, at least in Tucson, have buzzer alarms with white strobes inside the building but the traditional bells on the outside. I thought the traditional bells were discontinued, guess not.

Now I know what was meant by fire alarms pulsing, and what that action is that smoke alarms and fire alarms do. My home smoke alarm beeps and pulses.



LMH
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01 Apr 2014, 10:02 am

In my school, it does sound exactly like a bell, and the school bells are used as alarms. Some buildings are quite old, but some are really new, and they have the same system.



WAautisticguy
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01 Apr 2014, 5:17 pm

My junior high school back in 7th grade had a clanging fire bell outside. Inside it was Simplex early 1990s alarms with that low pitched loud horn that would scare me to death. Mind you, this was the 2010-11 school year, it was NOT the 1970s! The elementary school two blocks away from me still hasn't updated their alarms - they are Simplexes from probably the 1970s which if pulled down would probably have a loud horn/buzzer! More and more schools are updating to "code 3" high screeching alarms however.



TimmyTurnerFan1
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15 Dec 2014, 3:06 am

These are some fanfics I wrote including Fire Alarms

These Are for Arthur
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10230538/1 ... t-Lakewood

For you fellow fans of Carl
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10507182/1 ... ire-Alarms

This one is for Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10622353/1 ... Fire-Drill

This one is for Angelina Ballerina
https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10627435/1 ... Fire-Drill

And the following were just my attempts to do fanart of the Fire Alarms in the screenshots of the Arthur episode April 9th. But they're not very good.

The first two are supposed to be a strobe light bar added to the Fire bell already featured in the episode and functioning in the second picture. The next two are of added fire alarm buzzers with Strobe lights, and I pretend the sound of the buzzer in the episode is coming from those alarms. In the first one the strobe lights are resting at the moment, the next one shows them flashing.

http://arthur.wikia.com/wiki/File:Lakew ... ed_001.PNG

http://arthur.wikia.com/wiki/File:Lakew ... ed_002.PNG

http://arthur.wikia.com/wiki/File:Lakew ... s_Added001).PNG

http://arthur.wikia.com/wiki/File:Lakew ... s_Added002).PNG

These pictures were done, well, these screengrabs were done to show and express my desire to and interest in seeing Fire Alarms with Strobe Lights on the show Arthur. I know most people don't care how the fire alarms are done and I shouldn't either, but it was just something I'd like to see. They were also done for my personal entertainment.

Now if only I could've, or would've, done better jobs at making strobe lights. I mean strobe lights not lighting at the moment are easy to draw but drawing strobe lights that are flashing, isn't that easy. The added strobe lights and the added fire alarms were made using Microsoft Paint.

Anyone who can do a better job than me at making strobe lights and added fire alarms with strobe lights and strobe lights that work is welcome to. Just go to the April 9th Page and look in the gallery for these same pictures/screenshots I used and put in your strobe lights and fire alarms. Or just click this link: http://arthur.wikia.com/wiki/April_9th

One other thing I didn't do and am so not good at is making the strobe lights light up the areas around them. It's supposed to kind of be like lightning lightning up the immediate area.

But this may be as close as we're going to get at seeing Fire Alarm Strobe Lights on a cartoon.

If I was a cartoonist, I'd include working strobe lights on my fire alarms whether it was a false alarm, a routine fire drill, or a situation where the building really was on fire. And maybe include sprinklers, which is used on many cartoons as well as live shows and movies.



TimmyTurnerFan1
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15 Nov 2015, 11:23 pm

I recently found out that there is a cartoon that features a realistic fire alarm and not only does it come with a buzzer, though high-pitched, but it even comes with a flashing light (it's a flashing red light though, not a white strobe light but that's good enough for me, or close enough).

This fire alarm is featured in the Cartoon Network series "Clarence," the episode is "Suspended" and this is the gallery to that episode: http://clarence.wikia.com/wiki/Suspended/Gallery You can even see some pictures of the light coming from the fire alarm. It looks like this real fire alarm (but the real fire alarm may sound different and flash a white strobe light) http://www.midstateselectric.com/Portal ... lation.jpg

Another cartoon that features a flashing fire alarm, well actually it's a smoke alarm, is "Blaze and the Monster Machines" (Nick Jr.) and the episode is "Fired Up." The smoke alarm flashes a light (also red) when it blares.

These are currently the only two cartoons I know that feature flashing fire alarms. If I find out anymore I'll list them, or if any of you know anymore animated shows that feature flashing fire alarms or other "realistic" fire alarms, please list it.