Fire Alarms Throughout History

Before Fire Alarms

Thousands of years ago, before quick and efficient communication methods were invented, fires were reported as and when they were found, often when they were out of control. The Corps of Vigiles were created in 6 AD by Caesar Augustus in an attempt to address the fires that blazed on an almost constant basis throughout Rome. This newly founded brigade consisted of regular men, who patrolled the streets on lookout for fires, armed only with buckets of water.

Unfortunately, this method, although the first step in the right direction, was largely ineffective. Because there were no other ways to prevent fires or detect them as they broke out the brigade often arrived too late to be of any substantial use.

Eventually, the method of raising the alarm evolved. During the 19th century bell towers came into effect as a city wide alert system. They were placed in central locations in an effort to maximise their effectiveness at mobilising units in charge of fighting fires. However, this evolution in fire alarms was limited in its effectiveness by underdeveloped communication methods as the alarm, even with specific ringing patterns to denote a general location, could not reduce response times enough to save properties and lives.

The Invention

With the invention of the telegraph, the first iteration of long distance communication systems, the opportunity to create a more accurate fire alarm and reporting system. In 1852, in Boston, Massachusetts the system of the centralised bell tower transformed into a central station (which is essentially what would evolve into the emergency dispatchers we know today!) The basic function of this station would be to receive word of a fire sent from a box in a neighbourhood, ring the bell, and notify the responders as to which area they need to travel to. Due to this new method, response times drastically lowered due to the more accurate ability to locate the fire before it got out of control.

While this contributed to enhancing fire safety in homes and businesses, firefighting was still dependent on someone spotting a fire, reporting it, and then mobilising the fire department all while the fire continued to burn.

The key is detection which didn’t truly begin to be effective until electricity came into play. Other detection tools, such as the smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector, were created at the start of the 20th century and eventually became crucial parts of contemporary fire alarm systems. Despite the fact that the technology had been developed more than a century earlier, homes and businesses could not always afford to purchase or operate these enormous or expensive machines. Before taking on the design we are accustomed to today, the contemporary fire alarm system required advancements in manufacturing and fire alarm technology.


Only ten years after being created in 1965, battery-powered, cost-effective smoke detectors were being mass-produced for household use. Battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors were produced on a large scale in the early 1990s and the first devices that detected both smoke and carbon monoxide were introduced to the market in 1996.

For the first time in recorded history, both workplaces and private residences could simultaneously notify residents to a fire on the premises and transmit the notification to a control panel. During this time, the creation of central stations that could accurately identify specific locations and alarm signals and convey them to the proper dispatchers and fire departments was heavily emphasised. In order to put out flames before they could turn into the block-burning inferno of the past, firefighting strategies radically changed from putting out declining fires to putting out fires while they were developing. Over the course of the last fifty years, fire fatalities have decreased consistently as a result of this remarkable change.

Contact Us

So now you see the importance of the modern fire alarm system in the early detection and eventual dousing of a fire. It is imperative to have fire alarms installed and well maintained in your home and business. If you are interested in, or require, fire alarm installation, servicing, maintenance, or any of the other products and services we offer please do not hesitate to get in touch. Call us today on 01733 602955 or fill out our online contact form.