EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 22, 2013

Students restore a piece of Lawrence firefighting history

By Yadira Betances
ybetances@eagletribune.com

---- — LAWRENCE — When Tom Hatem found a fire call box from the 1920s in a scrap pile, he knew it not only had to be saved and restored but also put on public display.

Hatem, an auto body teacher at Greater Lawrence Technical School, had juniors Shane Dunn and Anthony Fabian restore the Gamewell fire call box Number 615 which was once located somewhere in the city. It took them two months.

After refurbishing it, Hatem contacted the Lawrence History Center. Volunteer Eugene McCarthy went to the school on River Road, Andover to evaluate the 5-foot-4-inch unit. He said the center would love to have it.

On Oct. 17, Dunn, Fabian, Hatem along with Alexi Reyes and Jaleesa Medina delivered the shiny red and gray call box to the center at 6 Essex St.

Reyes of Methuen and Medina of Lawrence did research on the call box and wrote about the restoration process from beginning to end. A fire call box is an telegraphic device used to report fire, accidents and other emergencies. Hatem said the device had 600 volts of electricity running through it before it was hit by a car in an accident.

“I’m thrilled that they thought of us,” said the History Center’s executive director, Susan Grabski. “It adds to the identity of the city and it enriches people’s visit to the center.”

Hatem, a history buff ,said the box was in terrible condition when he found it. The pull door and trigger mechanism were missing, the top was broken, the clock was jammed and needed to be cleaned, a cable box door was missing and it had been painted over so many times, it took Dunn and Fabian one week to remove the old paint with a sandblaster.

Dunn and Fabian, both juniors from Lawrence in the metal fabrication shop, did the restoration over two months under Hatem’s supervision. They first tackled the clock’s mechanism, assisted by the Lawrence and Methuen Fire Alarm Divisions. After minor repairs, the clock was working again.

Harold Roeder, owner and president of L.W. Bills Company in Georgetown, donated the missing pull-down door and trigger mechanism so the students could finish the repairs.

Roeder, a firefighter for 44 years and fire chief in Georgetown from 1998 to 2000, comes from a line of firefighters. His grandfather served in the Boston Fire Department. His father was a firefighter in Lexington and served as fire commissioner there.

In addition to owning the private fire alarm company, he opened a museum in 1967 and has restored numerous fire alarms over the years.

Dunn and Fabian also primed and repainted the red and silver colors on the fire alarm to duplicate its original look. Fabian went one step further by hand tracing in white the box’s trademark Gamewell logo, with a hand holding three lightning bolts in the center, as well as all the other wording that had faded.

“It feels good to bring back a piece of history people don’t know about,” Fabian said.

Hatem said although fire call boxes have become obsolete with new technology, they came in handy during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

“I’m always impressed with their interdisciplinary skills. Students need to know why they are doing something. It makes it more relevant for them,” Grabski said.