Aug 232011


By Scott Shifrel, NY Daily News 8/15/11

(See full article and photo of the fire alarm boxes at



A federal judge on Monday once again struck down the city’s plan to remove fire alarm boxes from New York’s streets – saying it would discriminate against the deaf.


The city had sought to lift a permanent injunction blocking the dismantling plan by proposing an alternative system using public pay phones.


But Manhattan Federal Judge Robert Sweet ruled the 15-year ban should stay because payphones won’t work.


“Public payphones are not located on every other corner … or otherwise distributed evenly throughout the city,” Sweet said in his 50-page ruling.


The city has about the same number of payphones (14,500) as alarms (15,077), Sweet noted. But while about 9% of fire alarms are out of service at any one time, Sweet noted that 17-25% of payphones are inoperable.


The judge also found that the city has not shown that a “tapping system” developed for the hearing impaired actually works or that enough deaf people know about it to make it useful.


“It is a momentous, life-saving ruling that protects the rights of the deaf and hearing-impaired in the City to report emergencies from the street,” said Robert Stulberg, of Broach and Stulberg, which argued the case along with the Center for Constitutional Law and a project at the Syracuse Law School.


The city contended – as it did when the Sweet first ruled in 1997 – that the call box system was both expensive and little used.


“We are disappointed that the Court, in denying our motion, is requiring the Fire Department to maintain a street alarm box system, at a cost of many millions of dollars a year, that has been all but abandoned by the public,” city lawyer Jonathan Pines said.


He said 85% to 95% of calls from the fire boxes are false alarms and pointed out that evidence suggests that the deaf population rarely uses the boxes.


The city is considering whether to appeal.


– Thanks to Joe and NVRC, Fairfax (08/18/11)