14 thoughts on “Fire Alarm Office, circa 1907

  1. Some interesting notes in the efiles: Date is circa. Unknown location, presumably this Fire Alarm office was the east side office. The east side alarm office was combined with the City Hall (central) alarm office in 1907, making one central alarm office. Superintendent Walker had been complaining since 1901 that the City was trying to make two independent village alarm systems do the work of a metropolitan system, and he wanted the two alarm stations combined into one.

  2. On the center counter are “ticker tape” devices, which would punch holes in a continuous paper tape. The holes would correspond with the number of a street or building fire alarm box that was pulled, then that box would be looked up in a directory and the appropriate fire company notified. Bells were also used and tapped out the box number.
    These Gamewell telegraph systems were in use in most larger cities until the 1980’s, as telephones made them increasingly obsolete.

  3. This photo was printed in the Morning Oregonian on March 30, 1913 (p. 8) under the headline PERFECTED FIRE ALARM SERVICE SHOWS VAST INVENTIVE GENIUS: Primitive Methods of Arousing Fire-Fighters From Vocal Calls to Ringing of Bells, Which Latter System Is in Vogue Still in Majority of Smaller Communities.

    The photo caption says “Operating Room at City Hall, Where All Fire Alarms Are Received by a Comprehensive System of Signals.”

    There is another photo of five uniformed men along with their names, Harry Wright, Chief Operator; Assistants W. Taggart, R. Abbott, S. Conrad and H. Beck.

    The article begins asking readers if they had ever pulled a fire alarm which triggered a “string of steaming, clanging fire wagons” dashing madly down the street. “If you have you can appreciate the fact that the system the fire department has for transmitting fire calls is nothing short of marvelous. If you haven’t you’d better go down to the City Hall and look the signal machinery over and see how it works.” Praise is given to the inventive genius which resulted in the system.

    “The street signal boxes of today are of cast-iron, cottage shaped, and contain clockwork, with spring or weight motors, so arranged as to operate a circuit-breaking wheel to open and close the electric circuit…” Further details of the mechanisms are provided. Square iron boxes “are arranged to repeat the station number as often as may be required. At the central fire alarm office the electric current is supplied by a storage battery system, a duplicate set of batteries being provided for each circuit in order that one set may be charged while the other is being discharged….

    “The instant that a street fire alarm box is pulled for an alarm of fire, the following notifications simultaneously appear where the alert and skillful operators are ever on the watch for them. The box number is sounded on a tapping gong; the same number is being recorded on a tape by the automatic punch register.” More details follow about levers and actions taken by the operator, and “by a single movement of a lever he starts the transmitter sending out over the engine-house circuits three rounds of the box number, and this is received instantly at the engine-houses, first on the automatic punch registers and then on the gongs.”

    Further details follow, and the article ends, “All this is done in less time than it takes to read this description of the process.”

  4. This a superb shot of a high-tech fire alarm system in the Steampunk age. The guy standing opposite the camera looks “cool.”
    I recognize the Edison bulbs on the control panel. Firemen are known for keeping their stations tidy, but no one has been dusting the big clock on the left; it looks like a couple years’ worth of accumulation.
    There’s a mouse hole in the lower right, so where’s the cat?

  5. In 1926 the voters of Portland approved the construction of a stand alone Fire & Police Alarm Telegraph building which still stands today on a triangular lot on the south side of the NE 21st viaduct over I-84. (915 NE 21st)

    Construction of the building began in early 1928 and was complete by August of 1928, but none of the alarm equipment had been installed. Over one year after the building was finished the installation of the equipment had not been completed, and in October 1929 a report was demanded by City Commissioner Bowles of Alarm Office supervisor Savariau, who blamed the delay on delivery of wire, and cost over runs. The new alarm telegraph building opened in late January 1929 and the City Hall alarm office closed.

  6. “District Telegraph” they called that system. A city broken up into districts with fire and security alarms on dedicated telegraph circuits.
    Thats the “DT” part of ADT. Amercian District Telegraph which exists 150 years later in name only.

  7. I believe the gentleman standing with his elbow on the counter was named Laurence “Wing-nut” Kelly . I have seen him in other city images from that era.
    I wonder how he got nic’ name “wing-nut”? 🤔

  8. Chris B.

    Considering usage of the term at that time, I imagine Laurence was probably mechanically inclined. It would have been a compliment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s