Nov. 2—MAHANOY CITY — Beginning Thursday, the familiar bright red Gamewell fire alarm pull boxes on utility poles throughout the borough will be taken out of service until further notice.
Mahanoy City Fire Chief Dan Markiewicz said the fire alarm system, two large air horns, will be taken out of service at 9 a.m. Thursday. He urged anyone needing to report a fire to call the Schuylkill County 911 Center by dialing 911 rather than using a pull box.
"There have been cases where someone pulls a box before calling 911, and we want it out there that that will no longer work," Markiewicz said. "People should call 911 immediately and not pull a box because in an emergency, minutes count."
The chief said the pull boxes remain fully operational and are maintained and tested annually. Markiewicz said the borough is investigating alternate locations and funding to move the sirens to a new site.
"We don't have a date, but it will be operational again," he said.
Markiewicz said borough electrician Thomas Ward will take the system out of service and begin removing the town sirens on the former Teen Canteen building at 18-20 E. Centre St. The items will be kept in storage until they can be installed at another site.
William F. Killian III, borough code officer and also a fire captain with the Humane Fire Company, said the fire horns must be removed because of a demolition project.
Killian said the borough received a state grant to raze the canteen building, an attached building at 22-24 E. Centre St. and a structure to the rear at 21-23 E. Market St. He said the borough has been trying to demolish the deteriorating buildings for more than a year and that bids for the project will be opened at Tuesday's borough council meeting.
Killian explained the fire alarm system housed in the former canteen building consists of two horns on the roof, one facing east and the other facing west, along with three air tanks and a control panel. He confirmed that the borough and fire department are working to secure a new location for the horns and hardware.
Michael Kitsock, former president of the Schuylkill Historical Fire Society and a historian on Gamewell fire boxes, said the Gamewell system in Mahanoy City is well over 100 years old and has served the borough day in and day out.
"I would put it to be pre-1900," he said, noting that Pottsville's box system was installed in 1890 and the Shenandoah system in the 1890s as well.
Kitsock commended the Mahanoy City Fire Department and the borough for not scrapping the pull box system, but instead working to relocate the horns and get it back in operation as soon as possible.
"This has been part of Mahanoy City for generations — it has become part of the community fabric," he said. "It speaks well for the community to make sure it will be in operation again."
Although, the majority of fires reported through 911 box alarm systems are vital as well, Kitsock said.
"This (the pull box system) is important because it works in seconds," he said about the time a box is pulled until the horns sound. "This is an immediate way to alert residents of an emergency."
"When a box is pulled, someone will come," Kitsock said.
Although no time frame has been determined to have the system back in operation, both Killian and Markiewicz said work has begun on the relocation options.