Sometimes I get poked fun of for paying such close attention to minutiae like this, but I pride myself in the knowledge that I’m one of a handful of people in NYC that do pay attention to stuff like this. I may be the one person in NYC who has noticed the nuances of fire alarm indicator lamps over the years.

Such illuminators have taken multiple forms over the years. They used to be mounted on a shaft atop the alarm themselves, and you still see a few examples of this around town. Since the 1910s, though, they’ve tended to be mounted on brackets of ever-simplifying design, either attached to lamppost shafts, or in the case of lamps mounted on telephone poles, to the lamp shafts. They have also been mounted atop the luminaires themselves, a practice that has been returning lately with the small red “top hat” lamps, that are usually drowned out by the bright streetlamp directly below them.

In the early years, fire alarm indicator lamps were made of red glass. This evolved into orange plastic over the years, with the lightbulb within imparting a soft orange glow. In the 1940s, cylindrical luminaires with arched tops became more and more frequently installed, eventually wiping out the globes.

When I first moved to fab Flushing in 1993, I spotted, to my jaw-gaping amazement, a globular fire alarm indicator mounted on a lamp at 45th Avenue and 158th Street. This was big. But this was also a few years before I carried a camera everywhere and recorded every Forgotten object in sight, so the “globe” went unphotographed. It was duly removed 5 years after I saw it, and now not only is it Forgotten, it’s forgotten.

However: I have also noted variances in the cylindrical indicators. While most are lengthy and a red-orange color, there are a relatively small number around town that are shorter and are orange-yellow. The one pictured here, at Dry Harbor Road and 84th Street in the Middle Village-Rego Park area, is one of the orange-yellow shorter ones.

No doubt the Department of Transportation has, or had, catalog numbers that corresponded to these. But I’m not privy.


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5 Responses to FIRE ALARM LAMPS

  1. Pocono Chuck says:

    While driving to visit my parents in Fresh Meadows last year, my then 9 year old asked about the alarm lights on Francis Lewis Blvd. I had practically forgotten about them, as in my youth there were pay phones on practically every corner in Queens, and these days everyone has cell phones.

  2. John says:

    I used to notice these growing up on S.I. in the early 60’s. They were attached to telephone poles. Some were like the one shown but many had the fancy short mast arm painted silver. Looking at some of the retro street lights and old photos, I think that the old street light telephone pole mast arms were used or re-used in my native borough. S.I. is almost completely wired above ground via wooden poles.

  3. John says:

    P.S. You have 2 photos of the scrolled masts in Hamilton Park. These masts also sported fire alarm lamps. The fire alarm boxes were attached to the telephone pole.

  4. Jay says:

    Lets see some snapshots of all these fiery beauties. I’d like to see the early ones, including the red glass light. I also wonder how purposeful it is to maintain these lights. Are they doomed to the dustbin of history as fire alarm call boxes are left to decay in the era of cell & smart phones?

  5. Growing up we were always to look for the yellow or orange light on the Lamp post this was to report a fire if we needed to, this was also taught in school during fire prevention week …… I have given a lesson a week ago to several youngsters who had no clue what it was for or ment are we as a soceity so far gone we forgot to teach the simple everyday thing….. I have faith thing will change ?

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