The Washington DC Police and Fire Call Box restoration and rejuvenation project began in 1999. The program involved over 250 volunteers from 60 different and distinct neighborhoods to transform the abandoned callboxes, which were installed across the city in about 1860, into quality artistic and historical works.
The fire boxes required the person contacting the police or fire the fire department to break the glass, turn the key and open the door, pull down the hook inside to send the alarm to a central alarm office where the box number was tapped out on a bell, flashed a red signal light, and punched out its number on a paper tape register, like a stock ticker. There was also a telegraph key and sounder inside each box, which the chief, or chief’s driver could use to order a greater alarm or all-out fire signal to the central alarm office.
The police call boxes (“Carney Blocks") were sealed and only a patrol officer had the use a key to enter and flip a switch to call into the central command center downtown. The box also featured a telephone that officers could use to communicate problems to the central command.