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From Fire Box to Future Box: Boston's Looking to Repurpose an Old Standby

BY Sam Roudman | Monday, January 7 2013

Photo: ericodeg

With the expansion of digital communications, the still-telegraph-enabled(!) fire alarm box is dying a slow death. But a recent initiative of the Boston Fire Department is looking to save the city’s 2,200 red sentinels from the flame, soliciting proposals to update a technology invented in the Boston area over 160 years ago, and whose upkeep costs the city $2 million annually.

According to an official “Request For Information” released by the City of Boston on December 24, Boston is “is seeking information from qualified vendors who are interested in applying innovative technologies to Boston’s public, street-side fire alarm boxes.” An e-mail from Nigel Jacob at the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics describes the boxes as "publicly-accessible, highly-visible, powered and distributed throughout the city."

The potential upgrades to the boxes ticked off by the city are pulled straight from a tech oriented urban planner’s wish list, including digital kiosks to promote geographically based city information to pedestrians, wireless hotspots, phone charging stations, and sensors to monitor air quality, noise pollution, and traffic. All upgrades are to be designed to ensure that the aesthetics of the current alarm boxes "remain intact to the greatest extent possible."

For now, the question of which of these improvements will or won’t be on the table is wide open. The program is in a question and answer period with vendors until the sixteenth, will be taking submissions on projects until February 22, and will be meeting with potential vendors in early March. The day you can start charging your phone at a fire alarm box will arrive considerably later, if at all.