Thursday, October 25, 2018

Get ready to look back: Fire alarms

A fire alarm in Massachusetts. (Photo by
Erik Hansen, courtesy Flickr Creative Commons) 
You’re jarred awake by mechanical horns and flashing strobe lights. People file out of the building to a designated meeting spot, where someone takes a head count. Between school and work, we all know the characteristics of a modern-day fire alarm and how to respond when it goes off: Calmly evacuate the building, leave your personal belongings behind and never re-enter the building until given the thumbs-up from an emergency responder. But fire alarms didn’t always operate like this — step back in time with APHA as we look back on fire safety!

Flash back to 1658. As the colony of New Amsterdam began to grow, so did the risk of major fires. Wood buildings and thatched roofs were still somewhat prevalent, so it didn’t take much more than a cooking accident to set your house ablaze. Recognizing this, the governor set up the “Rattle Watch” — literally eight citizens that patrolled the streets at night with wooden rattles, with instructions to sound them off and alert the townspeople if they detected fire. Can you imagine if this was the system in place today? As wild as it seems, that same colony, New Amsterdam, would later be renamed New York. America’s early fire alarms, the Rattle Watch, are at least partially to thank for the sprawling metropolis of Manhattan!

When this system became inadequate, cites built bell-towers to sound the alarm, and eventually developed more sophisticated methods. In the 1850s, Boston installed the first telegraph-based alarm system that connected government buildings, churches and schools to the fire department. An automated version of this followed in the 1890s. By the early-mid 1900s, scientists and engineers were patenting heat sensors and smoke detectors, the main components of the modern fire alarm. In 1980s, the first legislation requiring smoke detectors in homes was passed and implemented.
Today, fire alarms are more sensitive and accurate than ever, and play a huge role in keeping us ready in the event of a fire. Remember to treat every fire alarm like the real deal and stay calm! Make sure to Get Ready with these tips from the National Fire Protection Agency:
  • Know the fire exits, and discuss an evacuation plan.
  • Have a designated meeting spot!
  • If you know that someone is still inside the building, tell a first responder. 
  • Never re-enter the building until you’re told it’s safe. 
Let’s be thankful that our alarms run on lithium batteries, and not tired people walking around with rattles!

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