View Full Version : Pull fire alarms in the 60's?

03-07-2010, 09:35 PM
Did schools have the fire alarms anyone could pull in the 1960s?


03-07-2010, 09:37 PM
Yes, they did. In high schools it was such a prank to pull them near the end of the school year that they had to post guards.

03-07-2010, 09:43 PM
Great, thanks!

And bomb threats were the thing when I was in high school. *sigh* People are so intelligent.

03-08-2010, 12:52 AM
Yes, but you had to break the glass to pull the alarm on the little red box.

Do a Google image search for "1960 fire alarm" & school. You'll see one of those little red boxes.

03-08-2010, 02:42 AM
Yes, but you had to break the glass to pull the alarm on the little red box.

Do a Google image search for "1960 fire alarm" & school. You'll see one of those little red boxes.

In the early 70s, I remember the kind where you had a little hammer on a chain to break a pane of glass, behind which was a lever. I also remember the kind where the lever was exposed, but pulling it broke a glass rod that was across it. I found a picture of this second type:


03-08-2010, 02:53 AM
Thanks for that picture!

Maybe I'm being google dumb because I can't find a good image of one from the 60's with the glass over it you mentioned.

Would it be feasible for someone's shirt to get hung up on one and pull it if they were pushed and then slid down the wall? That's what I'm trying to figure out.

03-08-2010, 03:59 AM
Anything can happen, but it would have been hard for someone's shirt to be caught in one and the alarm pulled. Maybe some kind of metal button, or large thin button, on a jacket could get caught in the glass rod (open lever) type.

03-08-2010, 04:13 AM
I think this is a modern version of the "break glass" type. The old ones actually had a small hammer-looking tool on a chain as previously mentioned.


03-08-2010, 04:46 AM
Back in 1960, I think all fire alarms were two step models. Modern alarms can be designed with a single action (pull lever) but back then, most required a primary action (break glass), then a second action (pull lever). Reason was to avoid false alarms. Single action systems require that you are able to check quickly to determine whether the alarm is an accident.

Schools are always a full box alarm for a fire department. By that I mean that once the alarm goes off, a full alarm or box is called. Back then you'd probably have a ladder and three engines responding, as well as a chief. There would have been no rescue for most departments. You don't want all that equipment rolling for false alarms.

Fire alarms are designed to avoid accidental triggering. And many of my friends tried various explanations on how the fire alarm went off, to no avail. Fire departments became quickly aware of the problems in schools during those years, and many steps were put in place to make sure nothing could trigger the alarms unless it was supposed to.

I can't recall a plausible story on an accidental trigger. I'm sure there must be one, but no one in fire departments that I know can think of one.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

03-08-2010, 04:52 AM
Thanks! I'll rethink that section and do something different. :-)

03-08-2010, 04:53 AM
I went to some schools that were built years earlier (one in 1910, I believe). They had the open lever type alarm pulls, so it's within reason for a larger button to get caught in one and the alarm pulled as the person slid down the wall, or pulled his arm away. It wouldn't have been common, but it could be one of those fluke things that happen.

03-08-2010, 04:54 AM
Hmm...now I'm rethinking my rethinking! :/

03-08-2010, 04:59 AM
Look at the picture mtrent posted. It's at least plausible for a button to get caught in it. Again, it would be more of a fluke thing.

The glass rod was only there to discourage people from pulling the alarm as a prank (not that it stopped anyone on the last week of class).

03-08-2010, 05:02 AM
Yeah, I can see it happening with the button. I'll play with it and see if it reads plausibly. Thanks!

03-08-2010, 08:36 AM
They had these pull alarms as far back as the 1950s, maybe even before. No one would have dared pull them because they told us tales on how the alarm would squirt a black in that you couldn't wash off and then the principal would KNOW who pulled it.

Note: When I was in HS, someone called in a bomb threat and the principal ignored it and wouldn't let us out of school. I guess we were tougher then, cause our junior high and high school were both pretty much fire traps. A student came through the ceiling in one of our high school rooms and a secondary building, where we had a few classes fell down. No one seemed to be concerned about the students.

03-08-2010, 06:24 PM
I'd contact Simplex-Grinnell. They've been making alarms since the 1800s.

Schools constantly update their fire alarms, so that a building from 1910 might have been through several versions. The elementary school in my town recently upgraded. The previous version had become a pain in the butt, with the sensors going off for no reason. The chief downgraded the response to one engine because we went so often for no reason. I actually had the damn zones memorized. So don't rely on the age of the building to determine when the alarms were made.

Originally alarms required two hands, or cranking, or something similar to remove the possibility of false pulls. In the 1960s, alarms were either the break glass and pull, or hold in button and pull types, to the best of my knowledge. Single pulls are a recent (like maybe last 20 - 30 years) development, as sensors now provide a high degree of reliability for confirming that an actual pull happened.

Of course, a lot of people aren't really going to know that much about fire alarms. My version of Stephanie's how they caught you was that fire alarms could read your finger prints. In a junior high that became famous for never having detention (bomb threat virtually every day at that time of day), no one ever pulled one of the alarms.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe