This is a photo of a fire alarm box outside of Engine Co. 98 on Chicago Ave.
A fire alarm box is an outdoor device used for notifying a fire department of a fire. The first practical fire alarm system was developed by Dr. William Channing and Moses G. Farmer in 1852 and used the telegraph system as the main method of calling the fire department to a neighborhood in the days before people had telephones. When the box is triggered, a spring-loaded wheel spins and taps out a signal onto the fire alarm telegraph wire, indicating the box number. The receiver at a fire station then can match the number to the neighborhood. The boxes are a form of street furniture still in service in many places, though many towns and cities are now questioning whether they are worth the cost to maintain since almost all households have telephone service and most people carry mobile phones. However, many people maintain that the systems provide a necessary lifeline and can serve as a backup to other systems in the case of power and telephone outages or other disasters such as September 11, 2001 when cell phone service for a large part of New York city was knocked out.
Click here for a list of cities with operating fire alarm boxes.