Towns with Telegraph Fire Alarm Systems Still In Service

Hats off to these towns keeping the systems alive and strong!  Below is a list of these towns.  Click on the town to learn the history of their system:

Bergen County, NJ:      Bogota, Hackensack, Ho-Ho-Kus, Little Ferry, Ridgewood, Rutherford, Teaneck

Hunterdon County:       Milford

Passaic County, NJ:     Hawthorne, Little Falls, Pompton Lakes, West Paterson (aka Woodland Park)

Somerset County:         Somerville

We hope to have more information on each town soon. 


Bergen County


Box 59 at Palisade & Fairview Avenues sporting a fresh coat of paint.The Bogota telegraph fire alarm box system dates back to approximately 1908.  The system was installed by Star Vendor and consisted of 8Bogota's Alarm Box Control Panel by M&K. fire alarm boxes.  The system was also comprised of one box circuit.  In 1914, more boxes were added and the system rebuilt.  Eventually, the system was split into two box circuits - west side and east side, with the railroad tracks separating the two circuits.  There is a third circuit that is an alarm circuit inside of headquarters. 

Currently, there are 51 Gamewell and SAFA boxes in the system, with both street boxes and mater boxes.  The former Form four was made by SAFA.  The SAFA form 4 was taken out of service and replaced with a form four made by M&K.  Two custom meters were installed on the M&K panels, monitoring the milliamps and voltage on the two circuits.  The Gamewell system proved its worth during Hurricane Floyd in September of 1999, as phone service in Bogota was knocked out for a one week period.  The only means to alert the fire department of a fire was by way of the fire alarm boxes.  Cell phones may have worked for the civilian, but to call Bogota police and fire Headquarters was useless since their phone lines were down.

In addition to pagers, Bogota uses diaphragms to alert the fire department.  The horns will sound whenever a box is pulled or when a telephone alarm of fire is made.  They also sound 24 hours a day.  A few years back, complaints form the citizens limited the horn use during the overnight hours.  However, manpower dropped off during that time.  The fire chief presented these stats to the mayor and council, requesting that the horns sound 24 hours, citing firefighter and civilian safety.  The horns began to sound again 24 hours a day and continues today.

There are three sites where the horns are located, however, 2 are currently operating.  They are the Bogota Town Hall, where there are 8Bogota Fire Horn on a factory building on Cross Street. Master Box 231 protecting a factory builing at the end of Cross Street.  As you can see, it was mounted on a pole, but later moved to the building.diaphragms, Hose Co. No. 2 on Central Avenue, and on top of a factory building at the end of Cross Street.  The Cross Street location is currently out of service because the property is currently vacant.  This location was chosen for the horns because the factory had used compressed air in its operations, which is what is needed for the horns to operate.  Plus, it is far more inexpensive  to simply run piping to the horn, rather than purchasing an air storage tank, compressor, and additional piping.  Since the property is vacant, there is no power to the building to run the compressor.  There was talk of relocating the horns to Hose 3, just a few short blocks away, but nothing ever came of it.  It is anticipated, however, that upon a new tenant leasing the space, the horns will be reactivated.

Bogota Fire Alarm Box Listing


On July 24, 1896, John Gamewell, the inventor of the Gamewell Fire Alarm System, died in his Hackensack home.  The Gamewell System of Fire Alarm Boxes has been in place in the city since the 1880's and there is even a street named for him - Gamewell Street.

Hackensack’s Gamewell system dates back to the late 1880’s.  In 1896, there were 22 pull boxes. They were primarily located south of Passaic Street, as very few people lived in the Fairmount section of town at that time.   The signal codes were very simple: 3- return taps, 5-testing fire alarm, 6-shut off water, 10-relief call.  There were two districts with 10 boxes in district 1 and 12 boxes in district 2. They were:

District No. 1 (1896)

24 Hudson and Lafayette Sts.         

26 Hudson and Kansas Sts.            

32 Main and Morris Sts.                  

33 Main St. Oddfellows Hall             

34 State and Lawrence Sts.             

35 Essex and Union Sts.

36 Myers and Union Sts.

37 Essex and Second Sts, Hospital

38 Railroad Ave. and Beach St.

42 Main St. and Susquehanna RR Depot*

(*Entire Dept. Responds To This Box) 


District No. 2 (1896)

43 Main and Salem Sts.               

44 Park St. and Central Ave.            

46 Prospect and Central Aves.          

51 Camden and State Sts.               

52 Railroad Ave. and Berry St.          

53 Union and Passaic Sts.                 

54 First and Passaic Sts.                     

62 Main and Ward Sts.

63 Main St. and Euclid Ave.

64 Railroad Ave. and Anderson St.

65 Grand Ave. and Clinton Pl.

2 Main St. and Spring Valley Ave.

By 1910, the number of boxes increased to 42.  Some of the boxes from 1896 remained, but most either changed number or location. 

District No. 1 (1910)

21 Broadway School                       

22 Hudson St. and Vreeland Ave.    

23 Hudson and Lafayette Sts.          

24 Hudson and Kansas Sts.              

25 Campbell Ave. and Maple St.       

26 Essex and Union Sts.                   

27 Kansas and Cleveland Sts.           

28 Morris and State Sts.                    

31 Essex and First Sts.                     

32 Main St. and Washington Pl.     

33 Main and Warren Sts.

34 State and Lawrence Sts.

35 Union St. School

36 Beech St. and Prospect Ave.

37 Vestibule of Hospital

38 Beech St. and Railroad Ave.

213 Union and Gamewell Sts.

03 Main and Mercer Sts.


District No. 2 (1910)

412 Prospect and Lookout Aves

42 Main and Salem Sts.                    

43 Central Ave. and Park St.            

44 Central Ave. and First St.             

45 Central And Prospect Aves.          

46 Summit Ave. and Passaic St.        

51 State and Camden Sts.                 

52 Union and  Clay Sts.                    

53 Berry St. and Railroad Ave.          

54 Passaic and First Sts.           

56 Passaic and Union Sts.                 

57 Passaic and Main Sts.                  

61 Clarendon Pl. and Anderson St.

62 Railroad Ave. and Anderson St.

63 Main and Anderson Sts.

64 Main St. and Euclid Ave.

65 Grand Ave. and Clinton Pl.

66 Grand and Poplar Ave.

67 Main St. and Poplar Ave.

68 Hackensack Ave. & Cross St.      

72 Main St. and Spring Valley Ave.    

73 Second and Cedar Sts.


When an alarm box was pulled it rang a bell on the front tower of the Mercer St. firehouse and blew a compressed air whistle at the rear of the building. 


On October 1, 1952, a phantom fire alarm system was installed.  Every intersection of the city and numerous buildings were assigned box numbers.  There was a filing system in the Headquarters desk room with all the running cards in it and when a call came by phone, the desk man pulled the card and then tapped out the box number to the responding companies.  This system remains in place today as the cards remain, and in case of emergency can still be put into use.  Today, there are 151 boxes in the city. 


Hackensack Current Box List

*Information on Hackensack's Gamewell system taken courtesy of the official website of the City of Hackensack.


Ho-Ho-Kus' box alarm system is still being investigated.  However, I can report that their system is maintained by Ridgewood.  The box system is composed of 9 Gamewell street & master boxes, as well as a set of diaphones located at the Ho-Ho-Kus train station.  Six boxes are visible from the street, 3 are inside buildings.  There are a total of 4 circuits in their system, two of which are local to the firehouse and police dispatch.


Ho-Ho-Kus Current Box List

Little Ferry

I'm still working on obtaining the history of the Little Ferry telegraph box system.  However, I will tell you what I know so far.  There is one very unique thing about Little Ferry's system.  So far, it is the only town that had completely removed their system, and then reinstalled the system a few years later.  If you drive along U.S. Route 46, as well as many side streets, you will see line wire still hanging on the cross arms.  These are remnants of the old system and are currently unused.  However, driving along Main Street, Liberty Street and Marshall Avenue you will find red C-wire strung up on the poles.  These lines are live and are part of the 'new' box system.  The old box list included numerous phantom boxes, as nearly every street intersection and small streets had a box number assigned to it.  The current system consists of 9 Gamewell boxes, all of which are master boxes.  All the boxes are on Borough owned buildings and schools as well as a private school.  There is a horn on top of the Marshall Avenue firehouse still in use, which may be a boat horn.  I do not know the make of the horn.


Little Ferry Current and old Box Lists





The history of the little red boxes in Rutherford date back to 1894 or 1896.  At that time, Rutherford was still young and had approximately 500 dwellings.  The system was installed by W.H. Petty & Company.  Ten boxes were installed.  The fire alarm station was housed at the former City Hall, which was in the area of 88 Park Avenue. Below are the original box number and locations.

Box #



Union Avenue & Maple Street


Union & Carmita Avenues


Newell & Mortimer Avenues


Passaic Avenue & Wood Street


Montross & Woodward Avenues


Park & Gouverneur Avenues


Pierrepont Avenue & Ridge Road


Passaic & Park Avenues


Orient Way & Passaic Avenue


Station Square

During the next 20 years, the young Borough of Rutherford began to grow and prosper.  There were now 1,928 homes and over 100 businesses.  By now, there were 24 alarm boxes in town.  During 1916, the control board for the box system was relocated to the back of the Co. 2 firehouse on Park Avenue (now Cafe Matisse).  The control board consisted of 3 box circuits and 1 alarm circuit.  The box circuits had the alarm boxes on them while the alarm circuit had the outdoor warning bells in the bell towers and the gongs in the firehouses.

Thirty years later (in 1946), the Borough grew to 3,672 residences of mixed sizes.  The fire alarm system also grew to 47 boxes, nearly double that from 1916.  In addition, bells, ink recorders and punch registers were added.  A total of 18 house bells were installed in the homes of firefighters throughout town, while still utilizing only 3 box circuits and 1 alarm circuit.  Although the boxes were now throughout most of the Borough, fire notification was still troublesome.  There were many varieties of fire alarm boxes in town.  Speaking "Electric-ease" the boxes had various resistances and types.  Most of them were acquired second hand from other municipalities who improved their systems.  Plus, these boxes were not suited for outdoor use.  With those problems, if a telegraph wire broke due to a storm, about 1/3 of the boxes would not work.  In addition, the room behind the Park Avenue Firehouse was not proper for the electrical circuitry.  It was a damp room with no heat.  The battery room was isolated from the fire alarm control panel.  Acid fumes from the batteries slowly began to deteriorate the contacts and instruments.  It was time for a change.  Lewis M. Minnella, the Borough fire alarm technician submitted a report to the Borough of Rutherford suggesting proposed adjustments to the system.  In his report, he suggested that the fire alarm control panel be moved to Borough Hall since it is properly ventilated and heated, replace the existing control board with a new board which has more box circuits (called a Form 4).  This would allow less boxes to be out of service if a wire should break.  Mr. Minnella also suggested that the Borough install new three-fold boxes made by the Gamewell Company.  The three-fold boxes is a step up from the old system in that if a wire should break, the box would still be able to transmit the signal, using earth ground to complete the circuit.  At that time, there were only 7 three fold boxes in town.  The Borough agreed with Mr. Minella's suggestions and purchased the needed equipment and moved the fire alarm controls to its present location inside Borough Hall.

In January 1954, a quote was received on January 27, 1954 by the Gamewell Company of Newton, Massachusetts for 1 Gamewell Diaphone Public Alarm Installation - Cat. #8102, Code YATOZ, Type D, 1 Gamewell Diaphone Public Alarm Installation - Cat. #8104, Code YATRO, Type B and 1 Local & Supplementary Alarm, Cat. #9164 Code YUDOS.  Total quote for equipment: $3,105.90.  Apparently, no action was taken.  Rather, quotes for new chains for the bell tower equipment was purchased.  Due to concerns about the possibility that the weights would fall on pedestrians below, another quote was requested from Gamewell for the diaphones.  Eventually, the diaphones were purchased and installed.  In February 1959, plans were made for another diaphone installation at the Ames Avenue Firehouse.  No quote from Gamewell, nor a purchase order was attached.  However, there is a third diaphone which is not mounted and is currently being refurbished by the webmaster.  In late 1961, the two bell towers were demolished.

In March 1966, Box 51 located at 290 Veterans Boulevard was installed.  In the late 60's-early 70s, work on the expansion of State Highway Route 17 caused the fire alarm division to move the circuit wires crossing Rt 17 to Box 16.  The project involved running underground cable underneath Rt. 17 and running 2 conductor c-wire in place of the old single strand telegraph line wire.


In 1981, the Borough was looking to either add another set of fire horns or replace the existing system.  A quote from J.W. Systems was received for a Harrington Air Horn Control System.  This new horn system would accommodate up to 4 horns at one location.  Evidently, it was rejected and the Gamewell Diaphones remained. 

Problems began to arise in the late 1980's with the Diaphones.  The valves would stick often, resulting in a very long blast lasting for a few minutes.  People would maliciously pull the boxes quite often.  Multiple fire calls a day would cause the diaphone to blast.  Plus the diaphones sounded 24 hours a day.  Residents living near the diaphones began complaining about the blasts from the diaphones.  Adjectives such as horrid, nerve-shattering and devastating were used to describe the diaphones.  At the time, the diaphones were connected to the fire boxes and would sound 4 rounds of the box number if pulled.  In addition, any telephone alarm of fire called into the Rutherford Police Department would result in three rounds of the closest box number to the location of the incident.  Meetings between the residents and Borough officials did not yield the results in favor of the nearby residents.  One resident took legal action against the Borough.    In September 1994, the diaphones were disconnected from the street box circuits and 3-3-3 would be manually transmitted by the Police Department for an alarm of fire at a specific address, smell of smoke in a structure, fire alarms sounding in a structure, water flow alarms, a working structure fire, or at the request of the Fire Chief or OEM director in the event of an emergency.  The diaphones would continue to sound daily at 17:00 hours.  In addition, there were attempts to adjust the decibel level of the diaphones.   Rather than having a reasonable sounding blast, the diaphones sounded more like a hic-cup.  A few years later, the diaphones stopped sounding all together.


The fire alarm boxes nearly met the fate that many towns faced in 2000....removal of the system!  The fire alarm superintendent was retiring and found that 9 of the 59 existing boxes were working.   The boxes were bagged and he reported that the system was failing.  He retired soon after and the Borough was looking to remove the system.  John P. Melfa of Engine Co. 4 heard about this and spoke with the Mayor and Council.  He received the ok from the Mayor and Council to bring in an outside party to see what the problem was with the fire box system.  The analysis found that a telephone pole transfer was made on Mortimer Avenue between West Passaic & Donaldson Avenues.  The circuit wires in the terminal box on the old pole was disconnected and incorrectly attached to the terminal box on the new pole by an outside electrician handling the pole transfer.  Thus, when the circuit wires were properly connected, 54 out of 59 boxes were working once again.  After reporting this to the Mayor and Council, Mr. Melfa was given the green light to go ahead and continue working on getting the last few boxes up and running.  Soon after, the remaining 5 boxes came back on line and numerous ground faults were cleared out. 


Since that point in 2000, Gamewell master fire boxes were added to each firehouse.   Digital master boxes were added to various buildings, including Felician College.  Multi-conductor wire linking the computers in all Borough schools and Borough owned buildings was installed, with some pairs reserved for the fire alarm boxes and phone lines for the Borough offices and schools.  This move with the phones, reduces the cost to the phone company, as the Borough has its own phone lines and no longer leases phone lines from the phone company.  Areas where the multi-conductor wire does not run, but the old line is run, is in the process of being replaced with new 2-conductor wire.  This will remove any ground faulted points in the old wire and will result in less wire to maintain, since there are 2 conductors in the wire rather than one.  Most recently, the Form 4 which was installed in 1946 was finally retired and replaced by a newer Form 4 console, purchased used from the Montclair Twp Fire Department a few years ago.  The system is very likely in the best condition it has ever been. 

Today, the system continues to expand.  Primarily, digital master boxes are installed, so that trouble signals may be monitored by the Bureau of Fire Safety.

Rutherford  Fire Alarm Box Locations

*History of the Rutherford Fire Box System taken from  Special thanks go I also operate that site.


Teaneck - The history of the fire alarm telegraph in Teaneck dates back to 1937.  But we cannot talk about that until we talk about the humble beginnings of fire notification in Teaneck.  In 1895, Locomotive rims were mounted on gallows with enameled signs.  When there was a fire, residents would take a bent metal flat stock, go to the nearest "gong" and tap out the number, according to the number code on the sign.  Other residents hearing the signal was then expected to repeat the signal at the gong nearest them.  There were up to 46 gongs throughout the town.  This lasted up until 1920.

1920 - 1940

In 1920, residents began to dial the operator and ask for the Teaneck Fire Department to report a fire.  The operator then transferred the call to the Teaneck Fire Department. the firefighter on the desk would then ring the appropriate fire stations on a plug-type switchboard.  this ring would set off World War I surplus air raid sirens at the fire stations.  Members reporting to the stations to answer the alarm would pick up the phone.  This would stop the siren and allow members to copy dispatch info onto a chalkboard.  These lines were leased from New York Telephone.

In 1929, an extension from the Teaneck Police Department was connected to the Fire Department switchboard.  There were 46 Police call boxes, painted red and left unlocked.  Red and white rings were painted on the utility poles where the box was located.  Also during the year, the Teaneck Chamber of Commerce began to push for a better fire alarm system.

During 1932 the leased phone lines began to give problems to the TFD and a resident.  Alarms rang a home phone on Penn Avenue and telephone calls to the same resident set off the air raid sirens at Station 2.  The Teaneck Fire Department also produced new box number locations.

In 1933, the air raid siren at Fire Headquarters was replaced with an air horn.  The air horn sounded the box numbers and special signals.

1937 marked the introduction of the telegraph fire alarm boxes in Teaneck.  40 boxes were placed in service.  Bells were installed in the fire houses.  In 1940, the air raid sirens were used only for air raid warnings and snow days.  Phone lines to the stations became municipal.  The telegraph box system was made up of 4 box circuits  and 1 local circuit in headquarters which was connected to a 16" gong.


1940 - 1957

1940 through 1957 saw more changes for communication.  A two-way radio was installed in the Chief's car and Rescue 1.  The radio frequency was 1630KC AM with an FCC Call Sign of KEE888.  Radios were installed in the fire stations.  Upon an alarm, two taps sounded on the Headquarters circuit and the box number was sounded on  the station bells and over the air horns.  Two announcements were made over the municipal voice lines to the stations.  Each station had an amplifier and a speaker.  There would be two tones then the announcement of the alarm over the radio.

In 1948, Teaneck Fire switched over to 33.8600 MHz AM, with the same Call sign.  Also, 1948 marked the introduction of Master Boxes to the Teaneck Telegraph Fire Alarm System.  All schools, a car dealership, a chemical test facility, a bowling alley, a night club and two taxpayer buildings were the first the Master Box customers.


1957 - 1988

Over the next 30 years, the number of circuits expanded to 16 box circuits and 2 alarm circuits.  The use of the air horn was limited to General Alarms.  The Teaneck Fire Department switched to 155.6100, sharing the frequency with the Police and DPW.  By 1960 all apparatus had two-way radios.  In 1968, the boxes were revised, splitting the town up into 6 zones rather than 4.  In 1969, the Teaneck Fire Department split off and began operating on 158.8200. 

From 1970 - 1972, many street boxes were added, as well as numerous master boxes.

1988 - 1997

Municipal voice lines to the stations and police were placed out of service.  Box numbers were no longer sent out over the bells for telephone alarms of fire.  Radios in the stations were replaced with tone-activated models.  The two taps were no longer sent over the circuits.  

In 1995, The Teaneck Fire Department assed radio alarm boxes to the system.

In 1997, Municipal voice lines were reestablished to the stations and Police Headquarters.  A voice line from Fire Headquarters to the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps was established.  Dispatch procedures remained the same.  The inside wire was used primarily for administrative messages, but sometimes used for dispatching during multiple alarms ongoing.  13 radio tie lines were also incorporated into the system.  Also, a fireground frequency of 156.000MHz was established.


2003 - today

In 2003, Computer communications (via T1 lines) was established to all stations (Police, DPW, TVAC, Rec Dept. and Muni. Court).  These lines were piggybacked on the fire alarm cable plant.

Teaneck has the traditional telegraph boxes (both Gamewell and SAFA) and also has wireless radio boxes.  Teaneck has about 33 radio boxes.  Teaneck continues to add telegraph boxes to their system, with one being added just two weeks ago, Box 487 - Pershing Circle.  The telegraph system gets quite a workout in Teaneck as it receives many box pulls for confirmed fires.  The most recent box pull for a fire was Box 9294 - 704 Pomerwalk in late March, 2009. 

Recently, I stumbled across a Municipal Services booklet  from 2002 from Teaneck and found a section about the fire alarm boxes, which I find interesting.  The very first sentence about the fire alarm boxes states "Teaneck's municipal fire alarm system continued to be the best way to report fires, smoke and other emergencies to the Fire Department.  In August 2002, Teaneck suffered a wide area failure of commercial telephone service when a severe lightning storm knocked out hundreds of phone lines in the northwest section of Teaneck.  While the telephone company diligently sent a large force and immediately began repairs, many households lacked telephone service for up to four days."  The report continued on saying "In 2002, 91 fires and emergencies were reported via the fire alarm boxes.  The instant alarm signals helped limit the damage and injuries in fires occurring at the hospital, a high-rise hotel, a senior citizen apartment house (twice), a single family home, and other public and commercial occupancies.  Dozens of smoke emergencies were signaled through the system, in some cases preventing smoldering materials or objects from reaching the stage of open flaming.  In other cases, boxes were used to get help for hazardous conditions, leaks and rescue situations."  Here's the kicker...."There were only 30 street malicious false alarms, less than 1% of Fire Department runs."  Let me repeat that, since I think it needs to be stressed....Less than 1% of fire department runs were malicious false alarms from the pull boxes! 

Another Municipal Services Booklet (from 2003) stated that the boxes were pulled 104 times, of which 18 were malicious false alarms. Click the link below:


Teaneck is a town that has their act together regarding the telegraph box system.  It is very well maintained and cared for; it still serves a purpose 150 years after its invention and is still continues to prove its worth.  I tip my hat to the men and women of the Teaneck Fire Department and Township officials who continue to support the telegraph fire alarm box system.  May your example open the eyes to the naysayers in towns that are looking to remove their systems.

Teaneck Fire Alarm Box List

Essex County


Hunterdon County


Thank you again, John for the heads up.  Yes, apparently Milford, NJ has an active telegraph system with a horn.  I do not have details at this time.  There are various independent fire companies that cover Milford Twp.  So, its a matter of finding the right company to talk to in getting information.  As soon as I receive information, I will be more than happy to share it.  Please check back.


Passaic County

Hawthorne - If you drive around Hawthorne, you will see poles with red & white painted rings, but no box.  You will see the wire plant still on the poles, but disconnected from the box drops.  You will see blue light arms showing the location of a box, but no box is there.  So why is Hawthorne on the active list?  Well, Hawthorne still has power going through the lines.  Hawthorne has sirens and air horns to alert the fire department of a fire, used in conjunction with their pagers.  There are 5 firehouses in Hawthorne, but only one has a Gamewell box on in.  And yes, if you pull the box, it will travel the circuits to the outlying stations and activate their horns or sirens.  Another interesting fact is that the school all have Master boxes.  However, the boxes are currently shunted out.  So, if you pull the box, it will not transmit through the circuits.  From my understanding, there is a discussion of removing the master boxes.  One of the fire chiefs is trying to convince the town to keep it and use it as the primary fire alarm.  If the town does allow the Master Boxes to remain and act as the primary alarm, then about 10 more boxes will go into service.

As an independent party, an outsider looking in (in other words, I am not an employee, a councilman, or affiliated with the Borough of Hawthorne, nor am I a member of the Hawthorne Fire Department), I do wish to express my opinion on the Master Boxes.  You have an alarm system already in place.  The wires are in place.  The town has existing people who maintain the system.  The boxes are there.  If the building's fire alarm is tied into the master box, then lets get the master boxes back onto the circuits.  Its just a matter of removing the shunt key inside the boxes.  Just like that, you have just saved the town money, by simply not incurring a fee for monitoring services.  Plus, you have just protected the town's children, the faculty and staff.  The very second the school's alarm is tripped, the Fire Department will be dispatched.  There is no delay.  There is no alarm dialing into the monitoring center.  There is no delay in waiting for the alarm company to receive the signal and then call the fire dispatcher.  If you talk to other towns who use master boxes, you will find that there have been many times where the fire department is either already responding on fire apparatus or already on scene by the time the call comes from an alarm company.  How much time is saved, 4-6 minutes?  That is a true life saver since a person without oxygen to the brain can suffer severe brain damage, if not death, in the same time frame.  I ask the those in charge of the decision making look at other towns on this page who still have active systems.  Talk to these towns' fire alarm technicians.  Get a good understanding of the benefits of these systems.  With a better understanding, you will see that the master boxes are the most reliable and fastest way to get help.

As for the history of Hawthorne's box system, I do not have much to tell.  I do know that the street boxes and the boxes on most of the firehouses were removed in the mid 1990's.  The system covered most of Hawthorne, as it did not quite cover an area of expansion in Hawthorne.  There are currently 6 circuits running through town, with one circuit being local to the fire desk in one of the stations. 

As I said earlier, Hawthorne uses outside audibles in conjunction with pagers.  Two rounds of a box number are sent out depending on the alarm.  Still alarms for individual companies are 11 (for Co. 1), 22 (for Co. 2), 33 (for Co. 3), 44 (for Co. 4), 55 (for a General Alarm).

Hopefully in the very near future, we will see the master boxes back in service and perhaps, even some growth of the system to include master boxes back on all of the fire stations and maybe street boxes.

UPDATE OCT. 23, 2015.  Hawthorne Fire Department is looking to add master boxes to the fire stations.  Currently, Station 5 is the only house with a Master Box.  I have been talking with Hawthorne and am currently working on rehabilitating 4 master boxes for Hawthorne.  Three of the Master Boxes will be coming from Bloomfield, NJ.  The fourth box is from Bayonne.  I am currently waiting for some parts to arrive and get info on box numbers.  Once I get the box numbers, I will be able to order the codewheels, install them and then deliver them to Hawthorne. 

Hawthorne Fire Alarm Box List


Little Falls - The Gamewell system dates back to the creation of Enterprise Fire Company 2 in 1907.  The founder of Enterprise Fire Company 2 was 12-year old Wilbur S. Crane.  Fire protection in the center of town in Little Falls was scarce.  Crane was able to convince the local businessmen in the center of town to put a total of $1,500 into the creation of Enterprise Fire Company 2.  A firehouse was built at 17 Paterson Avenue, where the fire company is still located.  In addition, 4 Gamewell boxes were purchased by Crane from his own funds, reportedly from the Township of Montclair.  These boxes were placed in the neighborhood near the firehouse.  Eventually, a total of four fire companies were formed and became the Little Falls Fire Department.  The system was later expanded, mainly along Main Street from Main & Center Ave west to Main & Clarence, near the North Caldwell border and from Main & Maple eastward up though Long Hill Road.  A majority of the boxes were placed on the Main Street/Long Hill Road corridor, with branch lines coming off of the corridor and Northward on Paterson Avenue.

Box 585 - Innovation PlazaThe telegraph fire alarm box system in Little Falls is currently operating very strong.  There are 48 street and master boxes in the Township.  Improvements are made on the system almost weekly, including upgrading from the old single strand line wire to C-Wire.  All the boxes are in service with the exception of the 75X series street boxes located in the Tanglewood Condo complex.  Those boxes are maintained by the Condominium Association and require work with the underground wiring.  All the boxes in the system are Gamewell boxes, including a 1916 box, in which the mechanism does not have the automatic ground return feature.  This box is still operating normally, and will eventually be replaced with "newer" innards.

Little Falls Form 4 has 3 box circuits and 1 alarm circuit.The system is currently made up of 4 circuits.  Three circuits are box circuits.  The fourth is an alarm circuit inside fire headquarters.  All firehouses, except Company 1 on Wilmore Avenue have Leslie Super Tyfon train horns in use as the outdoor warning system.  The each set of horns are tied into the nearby box circuit.  Thus, when a box is pulled the diaphragms will blast 4 rounds of the box number.  For any telephone alarm of fire, the fire dispatcher inside fire headquarters will transmit one round of the closest box.  If it is a working fire, a second round of the closest box will be manually transmitted.  Of the three firehouses, Fire Headquarters and Great Notch had the quad setup, while Singac Station 3 has a dual horn setup.

The numbering system is as follows.  The lowest number start at 12 on the west end of the Township.  As you move east, the first digit increases, until ultimately, you get to the 9 series.  The attached box list includes street boxes, master boxes, and phantom boxes (no physical box, just a number assigned to the area)

Little Falls Box List


Pompton Lakes

The history of the Pompton Lakes Gamewell system is being researched.  However, what we can tell you about the system today is that the system is primarily Gamewell equipment.  The receiving unit is a Digitize Form 4, similar to the Little Falls form 4, shown above.  They also have 3 box circuits and 1 alarm circuit in their system.  Their system appears to have street boxes and master boxes and is in relatively good shape.  It does not appear that a diaphone was used.  In driving through Pompton Lakes 5 years ago, I did not see any type of horn that would have been used in conjunction with the system.  However, I have been advised that there in fact was a diaphone.  It is not in service and is reportedly on display inside the meeting hall inside Fire Headquarters.  I also am not certain if any boxes are out of service.  Five years ago, I saw a couple boxes bagged in the downtown district.  A unique feature about this system, compared to others thus far, is that there are single digit box numbers.  Also, there does not appear to be a numbering pattern, such as boxes beginning with 1 are the 1st ward of the town or the northeast section, etc. 

Update April 26, 2014:  As a follow up to the above narrative, I have since heard from Pompton Lakes about their system.  First, there certainly was a diaphone in service one time.  It was located on top of their former firehouse at 300 Wanaque Avenue.  When the FD moved to a new building in 1979, they were not permitted to move the horn to the new location due to its proximity to residences and churches.  However, they do have all the equipment needed to operate the horn, should they ever place it in service.  The boxes were covered in the downtown district, due to the streetscape project ongoing.  The boxes were not yet hooked up to the circuit.  Thus, they were bagged.  If you go on google maps and look up Wanaque Avenue in Pompton Lakes, the view changes as you proceed toward the railroad crossing.  You will see some before and after pictures.  The after pictures show nice shiny pedestals with boxes.  There are 3 gongs, all in the firehouse, still tied into the circuits, along with a Digitize receiver.  Telephone alarms of fire go to the Pompton Lakes Police Department who will page out the PLFD, sound the 5 air-raid type sirens also send 3-3-3 across the circuits.

I have also been advised that the Pompton Lakes system, like all others, have a battery backup.  This proved useful back when the diaphone was in-service.  There were instances where power failed, rendering the air-raid sirens useless.  The diaphone, being on battery backup with the boxes, would sound with no problem.  A few years back, there was a communications issue.  Residents were advised to go to a box and pull it for ANY type of emergency.

The system is maintained by two alarm technicians.

Pompton Lakes Box List


West Paterson

West Paterson Fire Alarm Box Locations

Somerset County


Somerville's system dates back to 1893, where according to a New York Times article, dated February 4, 1893,  "Somerville firemen have raised funds to put in a fire alarm system with six signal boxes, similar to the system used in Plainfield."  Apparently, Somerville's Gamewell system is in grave danger!  In late 2006, the system was subject to be removed.  As it was told to me, there was a problem with one of the receiving units, which I believe was Harrington Signal's equivalent of the Form 4.  Fortunately, I knew someone who had parts for that and offered the parts for trade to help keep the system in service.  I heard no reply.  In addition, there was supposedly a concern of liability with the master boxes.  It sounded like the system needed some tender loving care to get it back to health.  In driving through Somerville, while visiting friends and clients, I see that there is quite a bit of C-Wire strung throughout the town, as well as single strand line wire.  A couple of boxes were removed in the Southern area of town, near the fire training tower, some time ago.  However, as of my last visit in early August of 2009, all the boxes were not bagged, leading me to believe the system is still in service.  I am attempting to get information about the system, including the history. 

Recently, I spoke with a member of the Somerville Fire Department.  He was very helpful and gave me some additional information as well as some pictures for backtaps.  He advised me that the system is maintained by two Somerville firefighters and that the system is still in service.  However, if there is a break, the boxes are removed.  Now, I'm not sure if he means a break in the wire or with the box mechanisms.  I tend to believe that a box is removed from service if the mechanism breaks.  I'm sure that they do repair broken aerial wire. 

There are three horn locations in Somerville.  Apparently, only one site is working.  The horns are located on the Somerville Town Hall, Fire Company 1 and on Somerset Medical Center.  The horn on Station 1 appears to be a diaphragm and is operational.  The horn on Town Hall, I thought, was a diaphragm, but may be a diaphone.  This horn however is silent.  It is unknown the type of horn setup at Somerset Medical Center  Apparently that horn is also silent.  The horns are connected to the box circuits and sound only when a box is pulled.  Fire Dispatch does not transmit the box number over the circuits on telephone alarms.

Somerville has a mix of street and master boxes.  They also have phantom box locations.  It is possible that there were boxes at some of these locations at one time. 

UPDATE APRIL 26, 2014:  Somerville continues to still have boxes up on poles around town.....however, after I drove through town  back on April 13, I did see that the boxes in the business district were wither removed or have some tape over the handles stating "Out of Service."  Until I know for certain what the story is with Somerville's system, I will keep them as active.

Somerville Box List