Today in DFD history – April 4, 1956
In 1956, Detroit was still using a telegraph based fire alarm call box system. Boxes were located throughout the city, typically on street corners. Each box had an individual number that identified its location.
When there was an emergency a person would go to the nearest box and pull the hook. The box would send a series of electrical pulses through cables that would punch a tape and ring bells in fire stations. The number of rings and holes in the tape corresponded to the box number. Firefighters had run cards that identify the box number, location of the box and what companies responded to the alarm.
On the night of April 4, 1956 firefighters throughout the city were extremely busy when they received 300 alarms all at the same time.
A thief stole a four foot section of master cable connecting fire alarm boxes to Central Office. When the cable was cut every alarm box it connected simultaneously activated, sending in 300 false alarms. Unfortunately the thief was not caught.
During the 1960s and 1970s the problem of malicious false alarms from call boxes was rampant. These false alarms weren’t just a nuisance. They used up valuable firefighting resources and endangered the lives of firefighters who responded to them.
In 1963 Engine 56 was involved in an accident while responding to a false alarm sent in from a call box. One firefighter was killed and another suffered permanent life altering injuries.
The city began removing call boxes from city streets in 1966. By 1977 nearly all the boxes were removed.