Old fire boxes come through when technology fails, cities say

02/7/2012 | San Francisco Chronicle

San Francisco's 2,040 antique red fire boxes, which use telegraph technology from the horse-and-buggy days, are still a key part of the redundancy built into the city's emergency-response system, and New York's 15,000 active boxes played a vital role on Sept. 11, 2001, when cellphone service was knocked out, officials say. When the alarm is activated, a telegraph wheel conveys a message and the box number to the local fire station. "It's a universal tool that everyone recognizes and anyone can use -- young, old, English-speaking or not," said Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

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