Fueling ire: When generators crank up, noise complaints come in

People in Naples wait in line for generators three days after Hurricane Irma.
People in Naples wait in line for generators three days after Hurricane Irma.
Published Sept. 15, 2017

When the worst of Hurricane Irma's howling winds subsided, the generators began to emit their telltale drone, like 4,000-watt cicadas emerging from slumber.

The calls to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office soon followed.

"Neighbor has his generator running and it's keeping him awake," a Sheriff's Office dispatcher typed into a log during a call with a Palm Harbor man at 11:55 p.m. on Monday.

"Generator has been running for 18 hours now and (caller) can't sleep," another dispatcher wrote after speaking with a Seminole resident about the same time.

By Thursday afternoon, the Sheriff's Office had received about 20 calls from people complaining about noisy generators, dispatch records show. The Tampa Police Department had seven, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office had nine, and the St. Petersburg Police Department had one. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office didn't field any generator-related noise calls, a spokeswoman said.

All told, that isn't a lot of calls relative to the population the agencies serve, but they represent, presumably, a greater number of annoyed residents who confront neighbors directly or seethe in sweaty silence.

The gas-powered machines, typically as loud as the average lawn mower, often run through the night, fueling refrigerators and portable air conditioners while neighbors without them pray for a breeze through wide-open windows.

But generators also power vital medical equipment and help cool older people, children, and others vulnerable to stifling summer heat. So local governments typically have exemptions in noise ordinances for generator use during the aftermath of major storms.

The Pinellas County ordinance, for example, includes generator under a general list of noise ordinance exemptions. These include "noises resulting from equipment or operations incidental to the emergency repair of facilities or restoration of services such as public utilities or other emergency activities in the public interest."

Pinellas deputies were told this exemption would extend through the local state of emergency and were directed to use their discretion when responding to generator noise calls, said Sgt. Spencer Gross, a spokesman for the agency.

"There may be circumstances where it's unreasonable, but I don't think we found any," Gross said.

Based on a review of the Pinellas call notes, some of the complainers took that news better than others.

One Safety Harbor man tried to get technical with a deputy, using an application on his phone to show that the decibel level from the generator at his neighbor's home on 115th Avenue "exceeds the allotted limits."

"I informed the complainant that I would not ask the owners of the generator to turn it off since his phone is not calibrated and we were in a state of emergency due to Hurricane Irma," the deputy wrote.

The deputy also pointed out that the generator was supplying power to a home with a 6-month-old infant inside "who was getting overheated."

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Perhaps the tensest exchange came just after 10 p.m. Tuesday, when a woman on 75th Avenue N in Seminole called to report a neighbor's generator was too loud, "and they run it all night."

The deputy arrived to find a number of generators humming on the street and called the woman to say she would not order them shut off.

"Caller stated she is also out of power and she does not have (a) generator running and believes it's unfair," the deputy wrote. "Tried to explain it to her several times but she demanded I tell them to turn it off."

The woman also demanded that the deputy "sit in front of her apartment and listen." She theorized the deputy must know the generator users "and that's why I won't make them turn it off."

Still, just because generator users are being given leeway doesn't mean they shouldn't be mindful of the noise they make, Gross said.

Generators should be moved as far from neighbors as possible and, if possible, turned off at least for a while during the night.

"We hope that people are considerate of their neighbors," Gross said. "It's a very stressful time for a lot of people."

Contact Tony Marrero at or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.