Pictured here, at 43rd Avenue and 159th Street, my former address in eastern Flushing, are new and old methods of indicating a fire alarm is nearby. On the bottom is the old method of mounting the indicator lamp, on a scrolled mast. In the early 20th Century, these were used to mount streetlamps on telephone poles, when they were plain incandescent bulbs diffused by radially-crinkled covers. They were seen in the outer boroughs by the thousands.

I’d like to find out the evolution of these masts, for when the transition was made from regular street lighting to holding the orange fire alarm lamp indicators. Until the 1960s, the orange plastic reflector was globe-shaped, but then became cylindrical. Fairly early on, they were supplanted by the short J-shaped bracket most often seen today. For the last decade, the city has no longer services these brackets. We can see the newest method, a small red cylinder, mounted on top of the LED, or Light Emitting Diode lamp, at the top.

I’ve made a study — because who else would — of where these older scrolled brackets can be found. They tend to turn up in bunches. There are some strongholds in eastern Flushing, the Pelham Parkway area in the Bronx, and formerly, Bath Beach, Brooklyn. More seem to be grandfathered out every year. 

There are also shorter versions scattered around town. The city does not seem to have had a rhyme or reason where to use the shorter or longer versions, though; some were used on elevated train pillars. For the past few decades, they have all been seen on telephone poles. 

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”


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6 Responses to FIRE ALARM INDICATORS, new and old

  1. S. Saltzman says:

    There is a short one located( or was located) on the south west corner of Queens Blvd. and 87th Avenue. This one lost its’ orange globe about 30 years ago. Curiously,a red bulb was installed that is visible in the Google Vue. What makes this one unique is there is a time switch controller next to the indicator, making it appear that this was a stand alone light,without a street light on the pole.

  2. Sal says:

    Something needs to be done to rethink the positioning of these fire alarm lights…How are you supposed to see it? Geniuses

  3. Michael Schwenk says:

    I read this article about 6AM today, 11/18; about 2 hours later I ran by this location on my typical running route. Sure enough the red light was on, and I did see the fire alarm box below, mounted on the pole.

    • Al Trojanowicz says:

      From at least the early 1970s, the City or its Fire Department did not maintain the orange globe fire alarm indicator lights. Instructions in cases of outages were to notify the private contractor that maintained them. At one time this was “Broadway Maintenance” (do they even exist anymore?), “Welsbach”, or other such companies that had the contract, which may have varied by boroughs.

  4. Joel Frid says:

    I agree with Sal. I like the new fire alarm indicators, but they are too high up and during the day, it is almos impossible to see them (due to the sun). The new indicators should be placed in the same area as the old indicators where they would be not too low to be vandalised, and not hight that they cannot be seen.

  5. Larry Rogak says:

    If I had a nickel for every resident of New York City who knew that the orange light indicates a fire alarm box, I wouldn’t have change for a dollar.

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