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Supervisor Peskin wants answers over out-of-service emergency call boxes

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There are 2,080 call boxes throughout San Francisco. (Mira Laing/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Supervisor Aaron Peskin wants to get to the bottom of what’s happening with the emergency call boxes scattered around The City after learning that many are no longer functioning.

Peskin on Tuesday requested a hearing before the Board of Supervisors Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee for an update from city departments on the operations of these call boxes.

“These antiquated boxes still operate in many parts of the city. It has come to my attention that dozens have been discovered to be non-operational which has been indicated by them being covered with towels and masking tape,” Peskin said.

“For residents living in neighborhoods without strong cell reception as well as residents and merchants who don’t have access to wireless services in general this lack of functioning call boxes is concerning,” he said.

Peskin added he was concerned he hadn’t heard any information from city departments about the conditions of the boxes and how many weren’t functioning.

San Francisco’s 311 informational call center published an alert Tuesday about the “San Francisco Fire Department Pull Box Repairs.” “The service technicians are working to repair the out of service pull boxes throughout the City,” the alert said.

The alert didn’t say how many call boxes were not functioning, but said there were a total of 2,080 pull boxes around The City. The out of service boxes are randomly spread across The City.

The boxes use copper cabling that is more than 100 years old, and repairing cable breaks can require disruptive road work.

“For this reason The City is conducting a pilot project of new wireless, solar powered fire pull boxes,” the alert said. “If successful, these new devices could lower the cost for fire alerting and speed the replacement of the older system.”

When the call boxes are out of service, the maintenance team covers them with a bag or cloth to indicate the pull box should not be used to call for fire service and 911 should be used instead.

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