RTA

mack

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FDNY, and many other fire departments, used the Telegraph Alarm System from the later 1800s into the War Years - the 1970s. It was a system that was very reliable, although very tedious and rigid compared to today's highly technical, rapid and flexible response systems. Everyone counted the bells when an alarm was transmitted by FDNY dispatchers. Meals, kitchen stories, Giants/Dodgers/Yankees/Mets games on TV, drills, card games, exam studies - everything stopped while the bells were tapped out. Housewatch wrote each number on a chalk board. You could walk into a firehouse and see response activity by the boxes and times listed on the board. Everyone knew their response boxes so members would jump up and hustle to their turnout gear before the final the final number finished ringing. Company journal would list alarms received - RTA (Received Telegraph Alarm), time and company response. It was a time-honored system and tradition.

Preliminary Signal list:
The Bells - Telegraph Alarm System - Preliminary Signals.png
 

Lt. Q

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Aug 23, 2021
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Whenever a multiple alarm would come in, and the special calls and relocation started, it seemed the bells would never stop. At 3 in the morning, when your company wasn’t assigned, could ruin a quiet night. What a big difference when the voice alarm came in service.
 

johnd248

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I remember waking up the morning, going downstairs, and looking at the board. If there was a third alarm in Harlem, you would see 66-22-1609 followed by 66-33-1609. A lot of bells. Since we had no boxes starting with 6, we would just sleep through the rest. And so it goes. If the first number was 1 followed by either 5 or 10, we would be up and getting dressed as the rest of the numbers glanged in.
 

mack

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The start of this NYC False Alarm video from 1950s shows steps when box was pulled to receipt of alarm with telegraph system (bells) in Queens firehouses.

 
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mack

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There was no acknowledgement with the Telegraph System, unlike the Voice Alarm which immediately requested responding units to acknowledge. Dispatchers didn't know for sure who they had responding.
 

kidfrmqns

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Jun 4, 2009
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In the busy years while the bells were still being used, how did they account for companies being out of position? For example if E42 was over in E50's area and another box was transmitted in 50's area that 42 wasn't normally due on would they just let the 3 engines normally assigned respond or would the 3rd engine be replaced by 42? How was the 3rd engine notified they weren't due if they were responding on the bells?
 

lucky

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There was no acknowledgement if you received the alarm twice, either by the bells primary and secondary circuits or by the phone, followed by the bells. If the company received the alarm only once, they acknowledged with their unit number, preceded by their designation, unless it was an engine company. That used to be a trick question. What is a single click on the telegraph. It was Engine 1 acknowledging a special call. Or an open circuit.
 

entropychaser

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In the busy years while the bells were still being used, how did they account for companies being out of position? For example if E42 was over in E50's area and another box was transmitted in 50's area that 42 wasn't normally due on would they just let the 3 engines normally assigned respond or would the 3rd engine be replaced by 42? How was the 3rd engine notified they weren't due if they were responding on the bells?
If 42 was acting 50...ie 50-2, they will answer 50's boxes. If any companies normally due on the box are unavailable, the dispatcher would have to pull out the running card for the box and special call by separate signal whatever companies were needed to "fill out the box".
 

entropychaser

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In the busy years while the bells were still being used, how did they account for companies being out of position? For example if E42 was over in E50's area and another box was transmitted in 50's area that 42 wasn't normally due on would they just let the 3 engines normally assigned respond or would the 3rd engine be replaced by 42? How was the 3rd engine notified they weren't due if they were responding on the bells?
See my thread On The Platform under general discussion on 1/6 19. photos I took in the Bronx C.O. in September, 1967
 

jlab

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May 10, 2019
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FDNY, and many other fire departments, used the Telegraph Alarm System from the later 1800s into the War Years - the 1970s. It was a system that was very reliable, although very tedious and rigid compared to today's highly technical, rapid and flexible response systems. Everyone counted the bells when an alarm was transmitted by FDNY dispatchers. Meals, kitchen stories, Giants/Dodgers/Yankees/Mets games on TV, drills, card games, exam studies - everything stopped while the bells were tapped out. Housewatch wrote each number on a chalk board. You could walk into a firehouse and see response activity by the boxes and times listed on the board. Everyone knew their response boxes so members would jump up and hustle to their turnout gear before the final the final number finished ringing. Company journal would list alarms received - RTA (Received Telegraph Alarm), time and company response. It was a time-honored system and tradition.

Preliminary Signal list:
View attachment 15592
That's alot of siganls to pay attention to. If your firehouse was in Queens or the Bronx would you hear the sugnals for the entire city or just the borough your firehouse was located in ?
 

lucky

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A firehouse normally received possibly a quarter of the boro's boxes. This included a surrounding boro's border boxes if units from the area were assigned to respond to the other boro. Houses in Bushwick, Wwilliamsburg and Bedford Styvesant would receive Queens boxes in Ridgewood and Glendale because Bushwick units would respond over the Brooklyn Queens border. If things got too busy, the dispatchers would transmit alarms througout the boro, eliminating one additional step for each alarm.
 

entropychaser

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Hopefully, one of the old guys can correct me. I seem to remember that Manhattan was divided into three zones. Adjacent to the Morse telegraph key in the CO was the heavy gauge brass switch to indicate either the primary or secondary alarm circuits. Nearby was a similar indicator switch to direct the signal to go to a specific zone or zones. Also, there was a Manhattan-Bronx interborough circuit. I do not know if that went to Bronx firehouses or simply the Bronx CO, or all the CO's. I do know that the Brooklyn CO had alarm circuit panels from all boroughs (between "the platform" and the west wall). They also had the voice alarm station for Richmond Borough.
 
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