Fire box helps firefighters put out flames at Boston apartment

Fire box during 911 outage helps firefighters during Boston apartment fire

Amid 911 problems nationwide, an old tool helped keep an apartment fire in Boston from possibly raging out of control.

There are more than 1,000 fire boxes throughout the city, both in schools and on street corners like the one where one was put into use Friday morning.

Firefighters say a man living on Endicott Street pulled the alarm Friday morning after a fire broke out in the laundry room of an apartment building, and the man used the alarm because his 911 call through his cell phone didn't connect.

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"I was trying to figure out where the smoke was coming from," Boston native Katie Hogan said. "I literally  just watched the entire thing go down around 5 a.m.”

Moments later, firefighters were on scene to put the fire out quickly.

"The North End is a very tight neighborhood," Boston Fire Department spokesperson Marc Sanders said. "Fires can spread very rapidly here, all the buildings are attached, so for us to respond quickly and get in there.”

The fire boxes have been around since 1852, with many in the North End finding out that they still work when they were put into action Friday morning.

The nationwide 911 system failure led to the use of Box #1212 in the North End, and firefighters say the boxes are used more often than many would think.

"Sometimes, the things that stand the test of time, that’s why they do and that’s why they are here," Sanders said.

The boxes are helpful because they don't rely on a utility or electricity, can signal firefighters to an emergency with a simple pull, and are easy to maintain.

"We already have it, we’re fortunate that it works and the city maintains them," Sanders said. "In this case, basically a happy ending to a story.”

Friday, many on Endicott Street were glad that the technology was still there.

"Some people think those are just in place for historical reasons," Sanders said. "They actually really work, and today was the proof of that."

Boston Fire says they maintain the boxes largely as a backup for 911 service.