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This report covers a short study of fire alarm boxes for 10 of the 11 largest
cities in the State.
This evaluation covers the effectiveness of the fire alarm box as part of the
‘communication system for fire calls. Box coverage per 1,000 population is
compared to total boxes in each city. Further comparison is made with false
alarms to total alarms received through the fire alarm boxes in each city.
GMA wishes to acknowledge the rapid response of Fire Chiefs Carl Callaway,
Thomas Eberhart, J. G. Fitzgerald, C. W. Ford, Dewey B. Foster, J. M. Kidd,
A. D. Nixon, J. R. Parham, W. A. Register and Howard C. Schaffer, also the
fire department staffs of each city who kindly completed this information and
provided their many combined years of experience in the evaluation of this
communication device. Equal appreciation goes to the entire GMA Staff who
individually contributed to the development of this report.
It is intended that this brief yet concise piece of basic information will con-
tribute to improved effectiveness in municipal fire service.
W. Elmer George, Jerry A. Singer
Executive Director Director of Research
FIRE ALARM BOX USE
A Survey of Georgia's Largest Cities
The fire chiefs of Georgia's ten largest elties eaves the continued use of fire
alarm boxes. Although false alarm rates are high the boxes are still considered
the most effective and fastest means of communication to a fire department. The
many valid calls received through the fire boxes result in the saving of lives
‘and property value. This leaves the false alarms in the necessary nuisance
(Fire Boxes )
The survey revealed suggestions that boxes be removed from residential areas.
Another area in which fire alarm boxes do not appear useful are certain industries
with private alarm and sprinkler systems in use.
Several chiefs feel the conversion to a telephone alarm system might be better,
but the costs are prohibitive. Savannah uses such a system through which the fire
department, police department, or an ambulance can be summoned. For 212 such boxes,
Savannah pays a yearly rental of $11,448.
According to a report by the International City Managers’ Association, the proper
placing of fire alarm boxes in a city is important in effective fire control and in
reducing false dlaruds" Downtown office buildings are high value areas in which
telephones cannot be reached at night. It is recommended that fire boxes be placed
at two block intervals. High life hazard areas, such as schools, nursing homes, and
hospitals, should be adequately covered. Fire boxes should be removed from residential
areas where telephones are numerous. Slum areas are an obvious exception, since there
are few available télephones.
According to the National Fire Protective Association 10% of all fires in the United
States account for 90% of all property damage loss. It appears that the high value
areas are most in need of easily reached fire alarm boxes. This is further substan-
tiated by the assigning of deficiency points by the American Insurance Association.
Concerning fire alarm boxes, the AIA assigns a maximum of 20 points for residential
areas, 67 points for principal business districts and 40 points for other high value
Some cities have greatly reduced their percentage of false alarms by various means.
Washington, D. C. reduced false alarms 45% in one month through an intensive education
project with the public school children. Publicity given to the arrest and conviction
of a few false alarm violators successfully reduced the overall false alarms in one
city. Arrest of the guilty was a result of cameras placed on three of the city's fire
Norfolk, Virginia found that 51% of all false alarms were placed on the weekends
when children were out of school. Relocation of certain boxes greatly reduced
the false alarms.
To receive the largest benefit from fire alarm boxes -- Consider:
. 1. What area needs the protection of fire boxes?
2. Where can fire boxes be eliminated and relocated?
To reduce the percentage of false alarms -- Determine:
1. Which boxes are most affected?
2. In those areas with most false alarms are telephones nearby?
3. Would these high false alarm boxes be more effective in another
part of town?
Another valid consideration might be the boxes in use per 1,000 population.
Use the following charts to see how your city compares.
1 peleaniba Exeluded.
“upine Alarm Communtcattons", Management Information Service. (Report 287)
2 " ' §
Boxes per 1,000 population |
Zo er ae
as . i
Sexog Wuele dul
43° 37 37 33 32
IF COST IS
TO ANY OF
NAME OF NO. VALID PREVIOUS
CITY FIRE CALLS WHO DOES COSTS, STATE
& ANSWERED CITY PAY HOW MUCH IS
NO, FIRE NO. OF AS RESULT COST OF FIRE FOR RENTAL PAID PER YEAR
ALARM BOXES FIRE OF FIRE ALARM BOXES ARE BOXES OF FIRE FOR LINE
IN CITY CALLS ALARM BOX LO CL LY. RENTED? ALARM LINES? RENTAL
Albany. 154 29 $145.00, $190.00 No City Owned -
127 Auxiliary Side
or Master Box
Athens 41 LT $200.00 Varies No - -
Augusta 84 . 45 $34,236.72 Annual Yes None None
Columbus 394 152 $200.00 No None None
East Point 302 182 $172.50 No None -
Macon 366 323 $250.00 (Box Only) No None None
Marietta 106 39 $250.00 No None -
Rome 84 26 $250.00 No - None
Savannah 157 89 - Yes Telephone Co. $4.50 per
212 (Year mo. per box
(Street 1968) $11,448 per
Valdosta 83 15 $243.30 No None None
98 City Owned
"I feel every means possible should be used for the public to summon help
in an emergency such as fire. Alarm boxes have been used for other emer-
gencies other than fires. I think they are necessary. The most efficient
emergency alarm equipment for the general public are emergency telephone
boxes, but they are too expensive for most fire departments to install and
the recurring charges are too high."
"It is necessary to properly maintain the system that carries the fire alarm
boxes, service them and test them often. I know of no better way to have a
fire alarm system."
"Fire constitutes the most destructive force encountered in an Urban Community.
And yet, it is the most easily controlled when dealt with in its incipient
The general public can sound a Fire Alarm quickly and easily by operating the
PULL LEVER on the alarm box. A coded signal automatically flashes to the Fire
Department in seconds. Complete fire defences are responding immediately.
We very definitely need them and they are effective even with the rate of False
"A Municipal Fire Alarm System is reliable means of notifying a fire department
that a fire emergency exists.
There are two basic elements in the communication requirements of a modern fire
(a) An effective system of rapid communications between the operating units
of the department.
(b) The devices which provide for prompt reporting of fires to the department
(A) It is necessary for fire department officers to be able to communicate rapidly
with the officers in charge of individual fire commands. These officers in
turn must keep in touch with fire headquarters. A means of calling off-duty
firemen to duty with minimum delay when emergency demands. It is also desir-
able that the communications system permit a fire department to contact de-
partments in neighboring communities. For these various purposes all forms
of communication are used in one way or another, including radio, telephone
and telegraphic equipment and messenger, service.
(B) The second basic element of fire department communications is the provision
of means whereby a person discovering a fire may promptly report it to the
fire department, utilizes the telephone, and the municipal street box fire
The American Insurance Association grading schedule assigns the communication and
fire alarm system five hundred fifty of 5,000 possible deficiency points, There
is some questions whether such a high percentage of the total points should
be assigned to the street box system and related equipment, the purpose of
the grading schedule is to measure factors involved in large fires or con-
flagrations. Actual fire experience shows that delayed alarms have resulted
in many important fires in the large loss class.
Street fire alarm box systems are used in three out of five communities of -
more than 5,000 population in some areas of the United States. This ratio
is much higher in some parts of the country where 9 out of 10 cities of more
than 5,000 population have fire alarm systems.
Fire department communications and public fire alarm systems are supplemented
by private fire alarm and supervisory systems.
Before a city discontinues their fire alarm system they should determine the
effect removal will have on fire insurance rates within the city. Compare
cost of leased service and municipal owned systems. The effect of delayed
"TI do not think that there is any faster or more positive means for a depart-
ment to receive and respond to an alarm. However, I feel that if we could
cut out the unnecessary street boxes, this would definitely cut down on our
false alarms, as over 50% of our box alarms in 1968 were false."
"In determining a city's classification according to American Insurance Assoc-
iation we must have fire alarm boxes. Due to the number of false alarms, I'm
sure there must be a better way. Yes, this is a needed thing."
"We do need fire alarm boxes. They are effective. There is no better way.
American Insurance Association requirement."
"Under the present insurance grading schedule, it is almost mandatory to have
fire alarm boxes to achieve a low base insurance rating.
For the transmission of fire alarms, they are effective. But, in my opinion,
the high cost of procurement, installation and maintenance for the number of
valid alarms transmitted does not justify the expense, taking into consideration
that the majority of homes and business areas have telephone service. Also,
most cities have police patrol cars with radios at all times for transmission
of fire calls."
"I think the fire alarm box in our residential areas is becoming less effective
each year, because the number of alarms is gradually getting smaller each year.
Also, many of the residents do not know the location of their nearest alarm box
because they depend on the telephone for reporting fires.
I do think that our buildings with automatic sprinkler and other systems should
have an alarm box connected with the fire department for several reasons which I
will not go into.
I think we could have a better system but it would be expensive to make the change
"The telephone fire alarm system, in my opinion, is most effective in
that the exact locations of fires and what is burning can be reported
with fire equipment being dispatched accordingly. Phones in the fire
alarm boxes are also used for emergencies other than fire such as for
police, ambulance, etc."
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