The city’s antiquated pull-box alarms, used to report fires, will not work this summer.
The city must hire a contractor to rewire them so they can signal the new county-wide dispatch center, which opens Memorial Day.
From that day forward, the alarms will be useless until they are rewired. The work should take 90 days or less, Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said.
If an emergency knocks out power and cellphone service to the city before then, the city could quickly put them back into service and monitor them from the old dispatch center at the city police station, Mayor Gary McCarthy said.
Barring a serious emergency, Bennett said a three-month hiatus will not matter much.
“They’re not losing much,” he said. “They are usually, and very commonly, [used for] malicious fire alarms.”
In his seven years in Schenectady, he couldn’t remember a single time a pull-box alarm was the first signal of a fire. Sometimes they are used at the same time as a caller who dialed 911, and dispatchers refer to those pulls when assigning a crew to the fire.
Their theory is that if a call comes in at the same time as a pull, the fire is more likely to be serious.
But mostly, the pull-boxes are pulled outside city schools, Bennett said, and usually firefighters arrive to find no fire. They must respond to every alarm, even though they are often false.
But the alarms have also been used, on occasion, when a crime victim needed help. In one case during Bennett’s tenure, a man who was mugged pulled the alarm. The victim didn’t have a cellphone, which is often stolen during a mugging.
“It’s extremely infrequent, but I can’t say they never happen,” he said of those pulls.
City officials have long known the alarm system would need to be reworked to connect to the new dispatch center.
But until recently, they weren’t sure they would keep using the pull-boxes.
“There was much discussion as to whether the new dispatch center was willing and able to accept them,” Bennett said.
But he argued that the system could be worth its weight in gold some day.
“Let’s say the phone system goes down and the cell system is low. That has happened,” he said. “This would give the city a measure of protection.”
The system works even when power goes out and is not connected to landline or cellular phone systems.
He added that it could be expensive to take the system out. There are about 254 pull-boxes around the city.
“The investment has already been made,” he said. “Why would you take out a resource that might someday prove to be a resource?”