Residents in the five towns protected by the North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue squad will now be able to access emergency services from outside each of the NHRFR’s 17 firehouses and also from the department’s headquarters on Tonnelle Avenue and 61st Street in North Bergen.
North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue serves Union City, West New York, Guttenberg, North Bergen and Weehawken.
The call boxes provide instant, one-button speakerphone access to 911 services for any type of public safety emergency, such as the reporting of a fire, a crime in progress or a need for medical services.
Users press a red button on the call box to activate the connection to a 911 operator. They communicate with the operator via a two-way speaker built into the call box.
Instructions are listed on the box in English Spanish and Braille.
“People come to firehouses with all types of emergencies,” said Director Jeff Welz. “Now even if the firefighters are out on another call, these people can get direct access to 911.”
Welz said that these brightly colored call boxes cost $500 each. According to Andrew Scott, the executive director of North Hudson Regional Communications, each phone line will cost the department $20 a month.
Acting Chief Brion McEldowney said no other fire department in the area is currently using this system. However, he did note that the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as well as airports and other bus terminals do use this call box system.
Since the late 1980s, when the old pull-box systems were taken off the streets, residents had no street access to 911.
However, according to Richard Turner, Weehawken mayor and vice president of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Management Team, who was present for the demonstration of the system on Dec. 28, these call boxes were installed as a direct result of the fires that took place on 29th Street in Union City on Mother’s Day.
The Mother’s Day fire, which left 32 families homeless, sparked criticism of the fire department when it was discovered that the firehouse across the street from the fire scene was left vacant because the firefighters were grocery shopping when residents tried to knock on the door.
Despite the criticism, 911 reports show that firefighters responded to the fire within four minutes of the initial 911 call.
“Residents do not realize that fire houses can be left empty if firefighters have responded to another call,” said Turner.
However, if these call boxes were located on the front of each firehouse on Mother’s Day, the 911 call may have been placed earlier than it was.
Replacing the old
According to retired West New York Fire Chief Robert Aiello, who is also the chairman of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Management Team, this new call box system has many advantages over the older pull-box system used in the 1980s.
Aiello said that the older system was taken out due to the high cost of repair and the large amount of false alarms made to the system.
“There are no moving parts on these phones,” said Aiello, explaining that the lever was attractive to kids and vandals. This new system only has one button to push.
Turner thinks that since the system is designed so that the person using the system is forced to speak, the number of false alarms and prank calls will go down.
Also, the old call boxes only connected to fire officials. With the new system, no matter what the type of emergency, the person can get help.