Every year, San Francisco firefighters respond to emergency calls from a street alarm box system that was in use when horses still pulled the engines. There's almost no part of the city that's more than two blocks away from one of the 2, antique red iron boxes that use telegraph technology, and almost all carrying the name of the city's defunct Department of Electricity. And in an age when cell phones and instant communications have spelled doom for the boxes in other major cities, San Francisco is happy with its link to the past.
After a fire broke out in a building in the North End early Friday morning, a resident who couldn't use a cellphone because of the outage pulled the fire box on the street outside. And soon, a fire crew was on the scene. In Boston, there are over 1, fire boxes, a system invented in the mid 19th century, something that still works even when modern technology doesn't.
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A fire alarm boxfire alarm call boxor fire alarm pull box is a device used for notifying a fire department of a fire. Typically installed on street corners, they were the main means of summoning firefighters before the general availability of telephones. When the box is activated by turning a knob or pulling a hook, a spring-loaded wheel turns, tapping out a pulsed electrical signal corresponding to the box's number.
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They stand like sentinels on sidewalks, providing a subtle sense of security and a touch of nostalgia. But fire alarm boxes - so common on our streets for more than a century - may not survive the high-tech age of enhancedcellphones, and GPS devices. The familiar red boxes are slowly disappearing, as cities and towns deem them obsolete.