The First Fire Alarm System
Prior to 1852, Boston fire alarms were given by the old method of ringing church and other bells. The ringing of many bells for a fire was confusing and misleading. The old engine companies frequently exhausted their strength and enthusiasm as well in running all over the town to locate the fire, and volunteers from the lookers-on often had to man the brakes. It was on this emergency, that Dr. William F. Channing, a physician of Boston, who had made study of electricity, as the subject was revealed in those days, in June, 1843, called the attention of the city government to the possibility of utilizing the comparatively recent discovery of the Morsetelegraph for the purpose of establishing a system of fire alarm signals.
At a banquet given in the Baldwin hotel some years ago to delegates to the association of Western Fire Chiefs, by the Underwriters of San Francisco, Mr. Dormin was called upon, as the veteran underwriter of San Francisco, to say something concerning how they fought fires in ’49, to which, in his reply, he said: “Evolution has done its work. The chemist and machine have taken the place of the old-time bucket brigades, the water tower can be depended upon to pour its miniature Niagara^ into the tallest buildings, while the Fire Patrol, measuring its pace by fractions of seconds, can be relied upon to protect precious merchandise from the excess of zeal of the men holding the nozzle. Modern conditions demand all these. The great buildings, towering ten, twelve, and in the modern Babylon, Chicago, twenty-five stories in the air, were not only unknown, but undreamed of by our fathers.”