Sound the Alarm

BrandbelThe other week, I wrote about a former fire house that dates back to the 1860s. With buildings so closely packed together, it was vital to have a number of these fire stations spread strategically throughout the city. But when your fire truck relies on literal horse power and there are no mobiles that allow anyone to quickly dial 112 (the emergency number) if they spot suspicious smoke, an effective alarm system is vital.

Obviously, in the days before telephones, it was important to have a way of alerting people that there’s a fire. As well as warning neighbours who may be at risk, the firefighters needed to be alerted, as well. One way that was done was through the use of a brandbel (fire bell). Just like the fire stations, they were set up a various locations throughout the city. The bells, some of which came from demolished 17th century cloisters, stood atop wood or stone posts. In case of fire, ring bell.

The firefighters would hear the bell (or be alerted to it) and then head out to the fire. I assume that as someone rang the bell, someone else might run over to the station to alert the firefighters as to the specific location. The bell would at least give them time to get their gear ready while someone else sprinted over.

On 3 March 1921, a telephone alarm system was put in place and by 1935, the last of the fire alarm bells were gone from the regular city landscape. The one in my photo is down by the southern end of the Nieuwegracht and is a replica of one that would have served the Schalkwijkstraat fire station I mentioned in my previous post. It’s nice to have these little reminders of days gone by, but it certainly makes me thankful for modern improvements!

6 thoughts on “Sound the Alarm

  1. Siren Song

    Its interesting that although the fire bell has gone, the 3800 general alert sirens dotted around the country still sound once a month as a test. In a real emergency, I wonder if people really would know what to do (You’re supposed to go indoors and switch on your locally designated emergency broadcaster….whatever that is).

    In Rotterdam they have been using systems to send a warning message to all mobile phones in the vicinity, regardless of the network or phone plan.

    • I know to go indoors, but don’t know the designated broadcaster. Of course, I also noticed this month that the vacuum cleaner completely drowns out the sound of the monthly alarm. Hopefully it would be ongoing if needed. 🙂 The phone idea sounds like a good one, as more people don’t have radios or televisions, relying solely on computers and such.

  2. Lovely post, Alison, accompanied by a photo that doesn’t include a bicycle. Was that deliberate?

    We hope In Vino Veritas is going from strength to strength.

    Michiel and Cornelia.

  3. Ha! I hadn’t even noticed there were no bikes. Though, sadly, that section is usually more filled with cars.

    Vino Veritas is going quite well. Lots of repeat customers already, and lots and lots of positive reactions to the food and wine. We’re feeling pretty positive after just two months. Thanks for stopping by on your visit. Hope you enjoyed it and had a great trip!

  4. So interesting!! I love how there are so many nods to former days dotted around Dutch cities. I feel like in North America our first instinct is always to replace, whereas here things exist in harmony. Lovely!

    • I’ve seen it joked that North America tears its history down, but it’s kind of true. Now anything that happens to be 100 years old or more seems positively prehistoric! It really is great to have these reminders and I love that they bothered to install a replica bell.

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