Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Fire Alarm Call Boxes

Remember the old call boxes that you found on every other corner of the larger streets to call the Fire Department back in the day? In today's high-tech world, they don't make sense. But even before the cell phone became popular they started to disappear from the streets of Philadelphia.

The call boxes made perfect sense back in the days when most homes didn't have telephones. But in the early 1980s, the Philadelphia Fire Department figured they became obsolete. And they were right, those call boxes got way more activity with false alarms than for actual working fires. Wanted to shake things up on the street a bit? All you had to do was go over to the corner, break the glass on the box face, and pull down on the handle. Firefighters would be there in just a few minutes, hoping to find a citizen to direct them to the site of the actual fire. But in the later years, the citizens beat feet and didn't stick around after pulling the box. So the PFD pulled them from the corners before the 80s could zip halfway through the decade. A bit of nostalgia, but not useful at all today.


...that some boxes were painted black. I never could find out why. Legend was that the box was painted black when a firefighter died when responding to a fire there. But there were many boxes painted black that had no fatalities attached to them. Being they started to go black near the end of their effective lives, I would think it was done to show that they were no longer active.

... Police call boxes. I never saw an active one, but remember numerous abandoned boxes around South Philly through the end of the 70s. Useful for cops on patrol before radios became widespread. Now the average citizen can't even listen to the police on their obsolete scanners since they went digital a few years back. So a few of us have somewhat expensive paperweights with speakers and digital displays.


Lou said...

The pic of the box you posted isn't from Philadelphia. There was only one 1951 style box in the City of Philadelphia, and that was Box 6627 at 13th and Walnut Sts.,not the one in the pic.
Philadelphia had 1931 or 1939 style boxes, cast iron and aluminum, all with aluminum Herculite front doors, or SAFA/HORNI boxes, and from 1964, some Harrington Boxes. The boxes that were painted black were control boxes for the Air Raid system from the Civil Defense/cold War era. They were merely outside shells with switching mechanisms to control the Air Raid horns. Philly changed its box styles over the years, and the cast iron shells leftover vestiges from broken and replaced boxes whose number had been replaced by a more modern box. But hardly ever a 1951 style box.


Brian said...

Hello Lou,

Sorry, I might want to be careful with how I word things. I posted the photo of the call box as an example of what they look like, not that it was specifically from Philly. I couldn't find a photo that specifically showed a box from our city. Alas, improvising can give you an idea of things, but it's good that there are folks out there who know the real deal and it's good to get your feedback. Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...


I can't do it today, but I can send you a couple of pics by Wednesday of the real deal. I have 10 of them in my posession.
Let me know.



Brian said...

Thanks Lou, it would be great to be able to display a photo of an authentic fire box found in Philly. I really do appreciate your offer, and look forward to receiving the photos.

rtredenick36 said...

Hey Lou
Would you want to sell any of your Philly alarm boxes? My email is rtredenick36@aol.com
Thanks Ryan

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