09/06/2012 10:12 EDT | Updated 11/06/2012 05:12 EST

New siren rumbling from Vancouver emergency vehicles

The Vancouver fire department is experimenting with a new kind of siren that sounds like a low-pitched, whirring drone and is designed to get the attention of drivers with loud stereo systems and pedestrians wearing earbuds.

The new siren, called the Rumbler, is used simultaneously with the more familiar high-pitched siren but emits a low-frequency noise that can be heard and physically felt up to 200 metres away.

Vancouver firefighters downtown have been using it since January, and are happy with the results, according to spokeswoman Carol Messenger.

“The fire crews are exceptionally happy with the outcome,” Messenger said, “because of its ability to actually penetrate those types of vehicles that are really highly insulated now.”

“This really gathers people’s attention, which will increase safety and hopefully decrease any potential for accidents.”

The Rumbler works by sampling the sound of the normal siren already blaring, drops the frequency by 75 per cent and then amplifies the sound through two high-output subwoofers.

The device has been available since 2007 and is already in use in over 100 emergency response units in places like Prince Edward Island and New York, the manufacturer said.

The fire department has not yet decided whether to expand the use of the Rumbler beyond the downtown core.