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Keep in mind that the telephone came first. Public telephone networks
have always been constructed as free standing systems. Under normal
conditions they use public utility power to charge their batteries and
power their equipment. Under power utility failure conditions they
can generate enough electricity to operate continuously, under full
demand, if fuel is available. Telephone central offices have battery
capacity to carry them for twenty four hours if the generator fails.
This allows sufficient time for the positioning and connecting of
mobile generating equipment.
Over the last forty years many communities have dismantled their
public fire alarm systems. This occurred because the reliability of
public telephone systems had become so good and the percentage of
homes with telephones had come so close to 100% that it was rare to
receive the first notice of a fire via the public alarm systems. Now
the percentage of homes served is falling. If the telephone network
reliability starts to go down as well then a very old fire service
joke may become a serious matter. When a brand new fire fighter
reports for his/her first shift they are sometimes told that they have
the midnight fire watch on the roof. They are given a pair of
binoculars, that are really meant for reading hazardous materials
placards from a safe distance, and told to stand watch to scan the
horizon continuously for the loom up of smoke from a fire. This gag
is left over from a bit of fire service history. This was the actual
practice in many cities in the days before telephones. A few historic
fire houses have towers that were once the highest structure in their
service areas. In one midwestern city the crew of a fire company that
had set their rookie to fire watch got a big surprise when he came
pounding down the stairs yelling. By pure luck he had been the first
to spot a major structure fire in a business district over a mile from
the fire house.
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