Fire-alarm call box | What’s up with that?
Are the old-school pull stations functional?
I found this strange, old-school fire alarm attached to a light pole at Broadway near Rosemont Avenue. Does it still function at this junction?—N.A., Rogers Park
Long before you could call 9-1-1 while snapping a photo of a developing blaze, on-street alarm call boxes (also sometimes called pull stations) were frequently used to alert firefighters, says Chicago Fire Department chief Kevin MacGregor. “Today, they’ve pretty much gone by the wayside,” he says. “The city has disconnected most of them or taken them off of street corners, unless it’s a location by a school or a hospital.”
In the aftermath of the 1958 fire at Humboldt Park’s Our Lady of the Angels School, which killed 92 students and three nuns, the City Council’s fire-code reforms demanded more alarms inside and outside of public buildings and that they be directly connected to dispatch. (Like alarms in many buildings built before the ’60s, Our Lady of the Angels’ rang inside the school but did not notify the fire department.)
The Broadway and Rosemont call box is disconnected, MacGregor says, since there isn’t a large public building near the intersection. Does he remember the last time a pull station was used for something other than a prank false alarm? “Please!” he says with exasperation. “No, I don’t.”