Telegraph Fire Alarm Box News

This section will list all telegraph fire alarm related news...whether good news, such as a box pulled for a fire, or bad news, such as a box system being removed.  And now.....the news.  Unfortunately, I do not get ALL of the good and bad news.  I do try to post any news as I get it.

September 16, 2015 Lyndhurst, NJ - Although Lyndhurst has not had an active Gamewell system in some 50 years, the LFD has placed back in service their fire horn.  Before going out of service due to renovations to the Lyndhurst Town Hall in the late 1990s early 2000s the fire horn would sound for fire calls and weather warnings.  Weather warnings were in the 90s, while Fire Calls were 7-1.  Now, from mornings until 8 pm, the fire horns located on top of Fire Headquarters will sound three rounds of 3-2.  The horn was returned to service due to issues with pager reception and continued problems with the backup phone alerting systems.

October 1, 2012 Teaneck, NJ - Teaneck has done something very interesting with their telegraph alarm system.  They have connected a relay to the AED cabinets in two town buildings, which will trip the digital fire alarm box.  When the AED door is opened, the box number is transmitted to Teaneck Fire Headquarters.  TFD will dispatch on engine company as a first responder and contact TPD to dispatch TVAC.  If this system works well, you may see more installations like this in Teaneck and possibly other towns with telegraph systems.

September, 2012 UPDATE Bloomfield, NJ - Bloomfield NJ has started removal of the boxes on the telephone poles.  As of September, they have not taken the boxes on the pedestals yet.  We are unsure what the Township's intentions are, whether the boxes will be auctioned off or distributed to members of the BFD.

August 18, 2012 UPDATE Bloomfield, NJ - Bloomfield NJ has bagged their Gamewell boxes this past week, with 50 boxes being removed from service just the other day.  Today, I drove around Bloomfield along various circuits.  So far, no boxes have been removed.  Just bagged.  Is there a chance to save it?  Sadly, I think not.  I have emailed the Chief on a couple of occasions, and received one reply.  He said he would forward my information to the appropriate people.  I believe that he did.  I also believe he was not getting the much needed support to keep the system from the various bureaus involved with the telegraph box system.  In a prior news statement,  I stated that "the solution would be simple....rerun aerial cable from the point to where it goes underground and run it along JFK Parkway, where there is multiconductor in place.  Then, run wire down James Street to Broad Street and pick up the circuit from there."  I drove along the route today and realized that may not work, as James & Broad may me the middle of the underground area and it is unclear whether an underground drop is there.  However, I did follow the multiconductor up JFK Parkway to James Street.  It crosses James and follows East Passaic Avenue, past Station 3 to the corner of Hoover Ave. There is a boot in the multiconductor at that intersection.  The fix would be to run additional multi-conductor or C-wire west on Hoover to Bay to Broughton and pick up the boxes there and terminate at the last box north of the break.  It is unknown when the boxes will be removed or if there will be an auction of equipment. 

May 2012 Rutherford, NJ - Box 6111 was activated dispatching the Rutherford Fire Department to 1 Orient Way.  First due companies arrived to an audible fire alarm.  As companies were entering the building, an additional smoke detector sounded.  When crews arrived to the 3rd floor, they encountered smoke and heard water flowing.  A small kitchen fire was discovered in Unit 305.  The occupants were not home at the time of the fire.  Fire damage was kept to a minimum.  The only notification of a fire in that building came by way of the telegraph fire alarm.  No injuries were reported.

March 2012 Somerville, NJ - Apparently, Somerville NJ's system is in the process, once again of being removed.  No word in the local paper, but apparently it is happening. 

March 2012 Bloomfield, NJ - Apparently, Bloomfield NJ is looking to remove their Gamewell system after over 100 years of service, due to an issue with underground wiring serving the north end of the Township.  The boxes themselves appear to be fine.  It is my understanding from my research that there is a problem with the underground in the area of the Oval.  Apparently, one of the ducts collapsed and may have severely damaged the wires.  Underground is a major issue with telegraph systems.  Its the most expensive maintenance.  That is why I prefer aerial cable.  To me the solution would be simple....rerun aerial cable from the point to where it goes underground and run it along JFK Parkway, where there is multiconductor in place.  Then, run wire down James Street to Broad Street and pick up the circuit from there.  You may be able to add boxes to some other circuits as well.  I have offered my assistance to Bloomfield, but have not heard back from them.  The expected date that the system is to go offline is approximately June 10, 2012.

April 26, 2011 York, PA - A miscommunication between a 9-1-1 dispatcher and a citizen caused a delay in getting fire apparatus to a house fire in York, PA, by nearly 8 minutes.  Finally, a street box was pulled, along with another call from another person reporting the fire, getting help to the right location.  As you will see, and as discussed previously here, you never know how you will act when reporting an emergency.  Some people handle emergencies well.....others may not.  Unfortunately in this case, the fire not only damaged the caller's home.  It also damaged two others.  I'm not here to place blame on anyone.  All I'm saying is that this story is proof that just because this person has a cell phone, it does not mean that the boxes are no longer necessary.  Human error is greatly reduced in pulling a box to notify the FD of a fire.  Click here for the full story:  York PA House Fire Miscommunication, York Dispatch with audio file.

August 10, 2010 TEANECK, NJ - Box 26, located at Teaneck Fire Station 2 was pulled this morning at approximately 09:30 hours, while Engine 2 was out of the firehouse on a training detail.  TFD arrived and found a woman at the box reporting a person unconscious in the basement of the house located near the firehouse.  EMS was immediately called and the TFD treated the victim until the arrival of EMS..

January 7, 2010 - Apparently, the Colonia Fire District in Woodbridge, NJ had removed their telegraph fire alarm box system in 2006.  I had taken a trip down to Colonia to see about the system in April, 2006 and saw the boxes on the telephone poles.  I visited the firehouse, but no one was around.  Emails to the Colonia FD have gone unanswered.  While visiting their website,  I read in the history section that the boxes were removed in 2006 (obviously after my visit).  So, we can now move the Colonia system from active to retired.  By the way, the same lame excuses were provided in the decision to remove the system.  Colonia Fire Department

November 8, 2009 - I found this article on the internet and thought that it would be a good idea to post it here.  Sadly, three people died due to a reported typographical error made by a 9-1-1 dispatcher.  The article does not state why the error was made, whether it was due to a connection problem, a dropped call, background noise, etc.  Please read the article and draw your own conclusions.  911's 'fatal typo'

October 19, 2009 TEANECK, NJ - Master Box 968 was activated at 18:15 hours, when the building's sprinkler system was activated for a fire in the building, in Unit 309.  Companies arrived to find a small fire held in check in a 4 story wood frame occupied multiple dwelling.  More info to follow.

August 11, 2009 - BOGOTA, NJ - Box 342  - Bogota Ambulance Corps, was pulled today at 17:01 hours.  First arriving units found a person at the box person requiring medical assistance with a severe injury.  EMS was notified and transported the victim. 

May 12, 2009 - WEST PATERSON, NJ (a.k.a. WOODLAND PARK, NJ) - If you still believe that Gamewell boxes are ancient and beyond their practical use, check this story out from the, the webpage for the Record & Herald News Newspaper.  After reading the article, ask yourself if their use is still required.  Fortunately, the towns affected both still have operating telegraph box alarm systems.

May 9, 2009 - While the town affected has no Gamewell boxes, nor an outdoor alerting system, such as a diaphone, this article is a SOLID reason why telegraph boxes and Outdoor alerting systems ARE STILL A NECESSITY in today's modern technological world:   Firehouse Magazine Article

April 20, 2009 - MILLBURN, NJ - Today marks the end if an era in Millburn, as the Gamewell system was placed out of service and the boxes and pedestals removed.  Some master boxes remain affixed to buildings, but are bagged and waiting to be removed.  The system dates as far back as the late 1800's.  Details are sketchy as to why the system was placed out of service.  It is known that at the time of removal, the system was operating properly and had no boxes out of service.  One can only speculate as to the reasoning for removing the system. 

The Millburn Fire Department is a paid department, located in the Southwest corner of Essex County, New Jersey.  As is evident with other paid departments, runs decrease with the removal of these systems.  Thus, you can expect, especially in this time of a recession that the Township of Millburn, in an attempt to cut back on spending, can look to either close a firehouse or cut back manpower since the lower call volume will not justify the need for the number of firefighters.  Its sad to say that, but that is what happens. In the City of Bayonne, New Jersey a few years ago, soon after their system was removed, the city closed one engine company and one truck company.  Just recently, a city council member discussed the possibility of making the Bayonne Fire Department a volunteer department!  Elizabeth New Jersey removed their system this past year, and their call volume has dropped.  In looking at some box lists from 50 years ago, I see that the Passaic Fire Department had 6 engine companies and a Gamewell system.  Today, they are down to 4 engine companies and no Gamewell system.  I only wish that paid cities that still have the telegraph alarm systems in service would fight to keep these systems.

March 25, 2009 - LITTLE FALLS, NJ - At 17:54 hours, Box 21 (Zeliff & Arlington Avenues) was pulled.  Upon hearing the fire horns tapping out Box 21, firefighters responded to their firehouses.  As firefighters were arriving at their firehouses, Little Falls Fire Dispatch received a telephone alarm of fire from Little Falls Police reporting a house fire at 36 Zeliff Avenue.  Moments later, L.F.P.D. arrived on scene and reported a heavy smoke condition on the #2 floor. At 17:56 hours, Assistant Chief 2-0 arrived on scene confirming a working house fire.  Engine 3 arrived at 17:59 and stretched a line to the second floor, keeping the fire confined to one room.

The first notification of fire was the box, transmitting its box number over the telegraph lines and sounding the Township's Leslie Super-Tyfon horns.   Firefighters were already responding as the emergency call arrived at Little Falls Fire Dispatch, resulting in a quicker response, limiting the fire to one room in the house. 

Box 21, located at Zeliff & Arlington Avenues (the driveway to the park was once Arlington Avenue) is in a flood prone area of Little Falls.  During long, heavy rains, rising waters from the nearby Passaic River flood the roads in the area, with water at times submerging the box, which is placed about 5 feet of the ground.  It is not uncommon for this box to be underwater during the severe floods.


April 23. 2008 - RUTHERFORD, NJ  - A man walking his dog along Lincoln Avenue noticed smoke coming from the rear basement level of Pierrepont School.  He then pulled Box 123 and proceeded to walk his dog.  At 18:43 hours, the Rutherford Fire Department was dispatched to E. Pierrepont & Lincoln Avenues for a box alarm.  Rutherford PD was also dispatched and saw the man down the street from the box.  When the police approached, he advised the officer that he pulled the box and saw smoke coming from the school.  First arriving officers saw smoke emanating from the rear, but was blocked by a locked gate.  Engine 2 arrived first due, forced entry through the locked gates and found bushes and mulch on fire against the building.  The fire was quickly knocked down with water cans and the area overhauled with a trash line.  No damage was sustained to the building.  In this day of cell phones, land lines, and Voice over Internet Protocol, the only notification of the fire was from a telegraph fire alarm box.  The Gamewell fire alarm box system continues to prove its worth.  The cause of the fire appears accidental in nature.