Uncertainty of Telephone Fire Alarms

Uncertainty of Telephone Fire Alarms

Because the telephone is such a familiar and convenient device it is quite natural to turn to it in case of fire. Telephoning alarms, however, is a dangerous practice.

The fire alarm telegraph, operating on a “closed” circuit, automatically gives warning when it goes out of order. Not so the telephone, which operates on an “open” circuit. You may lift the receiver from the hook to report a fire and wait in vain for central to answer if the phone happens to be “out.” with nothing to indicate that such is the case.

The sketch herewith shows diagrammatically how this operates.

While current is flowing through the circuit from the battery A it energizes the electrical magnet which holds the armature tightly against it. Just as soon as there is a break in the circuit such as at the point indicated C then current ceases to flow and the electrical magnet becomes demagnetized. When this occurs the armature due to its weight drops away from the electric magnet and in dropping away doses the circuit on the contact block indicated in the diagram. As soon as this second circuit is closed current connected with the bell flows in the dosed circuit and sets the bell aringing indicating that there is a break somewhere in the fire alarm circuit. While this is not the exact mechanism employed, still it gives an idea of what occurs when a break occurs in a dosed circuit.

Showing How Closed Fire Alarm Circuit Operates.

The operator may be slow in responding or neglect your signal entirely. In the excitement the location of the fire may be incorrectly given or repeated and there is no assurance that a telephoned alarm will ever reach the engine house. In the fatal Scobey Hospital fire in Boston an alarm was telephoned. While recorded at the telephone central office, there is no record of its receipt at fire alarm headquarters. In many cities fewer pieces of fire apparatus respond to a telephone alarm than to a box alarm.

While the personnel of telephone companies are earnestly cooperating with the fire service and are vitally interested in seeing that the telephone always functions properly, they recognize that it is not primarily an alarm device. In a Fire Prevention Week message the manager of the telephone company in San Francisco warned against the use of the telephone in case of fire. He suggested that, if an alarm box was not accessible, a neighbor’s telephone he used in preference to the one in the burning house, which might be put out of order by the fire.

The telephone is an excellent auxiliary, especially in reporting brush, grass and minor chimney fires, but it is an unreliable fire alarm for a serious fire. There is no harm in telephoning an alarm, but someone should go to the box.

Amplifying this advice, two cases may be mentioned. There was a fire at the home of Albert H. Eichorn, 850 Newton street. Brookline, Mass, recently. His telephone was in the Center Newton Exchange. He called the telephone operator and asked that the Chestnut Hill fire department be sent. The operator very naturally advised the Newton fire department that there was a fire on Newton street in Newton, instead of Newton street, Brookline, which was a mile and a half away, binding no fire on his arrival there, the chief sent his apparatus to Newton street, Brookline. Finding the fire here, he notified the Brookline fire department. The delay occasioned the loss of $25,000.

A fire broke out rccently at the home of Mrs. C. Specht, in Elizabeth, N. J. She called the Cranford fire department on the phone, reporting a fire in Specht’s place on Newark avenue. The Cranford firemen went to Specht’s place on North avenue, but found no fire.

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