Reconnecting 170,000 Phone Customers in NYC After a Major Fire - AT&T Archives - Mobile Cell Deals
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Reconnecting 170,000 Phone Customers in NYC After a Major Fire – AT&T Archives

26 Apr Reconnecting 170,000 Phone Customers in NYC After a Major Fire – AT&T Archives



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Introduction by George Kupczak of the AT&T Archives and History Center

The morning of February 27, 1975 brought a fire in the telephone building at 204 Second Avenue, at East 13th Street. The building housed the Main Distribution Frame that served customers in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn–the mainframe was destroyed, disconnecting tens of thousands of customers, and switching equipment was melted or damaged by smoke. The fire took out approximately 170,000 lines. The Bell System immediately went into company-wide action, restoring service within about 2 weeks, and brought rolling phone trucks to lower manhattan to provide at least some service to residents.

The filmmakers were quick on the scene and started rolling cameras to document not just the recovery of the system by the efforts of firemen, Bell executives, and Bell workers, but put lenses on affected customers as well, to tell the full picture in this cinéma-vérité documentary.

The 2nd Ave. disaster was the largest loss of telephone service from fire in United States history until World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001. On that occasion, service was disrupted to approx. 300,000 circuits and 10 cellphone towers.

A Gordon/Glyn Production Albert Maysles provided footage

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ

41 Comments
  • Snowfirel
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Love ya Ma Bell.

  • Richard Conte
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    That was 1975. Why diddn't they replace the switch with a 1 ESS

  • Marcel Zatko
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    how many of those lines belonged to the mafia and fucked their business up I wonder being new York city and all

  • rtel123
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    I worked in tel switching that year in the west. That incident sure caused a ripple across the continent regarding fire isolation precautions! Cinder block walls between distribution frames and switches, strict rules about sealing off open inter-room ducts with fireproof pillows every evening, and very expensive non-destructive automatic fire suppression systems. Today, landlines are not essential for most people. And landlines are largely migrating to the internet, which is not as vulnerable to destruction, and uses a LOT less hardware.

  • Maleblade
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    I volunteered to go to that building to help restore service.When I returned to E150th ST I was laughed at because the guys there got all the overtime they wanted, without working in the toxic conditions in the Second Ave Building.It was easy money for them at E150th Street.

  • gorillaau
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Excellent short film. Good thing management had the foresight to bring in a documentary team. I'm not sure if that would happen today. No one admit liability, document as little as possible about the damage and causes.

  • RFREDELLA
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Every fireman that was at this fire all died with in 10 years…Mostly from cancer from the toxic fumes…There still may be a class action suit pending after all these years today

  • SilentServiceCode
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    6:40 the captions say "but you'll be different because it'll be a nigga system"

  • mel816
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    While Bell Labs and Western Electric are now Nokia:-P

  • Robert Cuminale
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    With one company we were able to take equipment from other projects and move it to NYC. We were only installing one type of switch so compatibility was the key.
    Today? It would never happen. The companies all use different products since there is no Bell Labs or Western Electric any more.
    This office was very old, a Panel Switch. You can see one at the Smithsonian. It not only served the 170,000 subscribers but was also part of AT&T's Long Lines unit switching long distance as well. Going electronic created hundreds of feet of spare space because the foot print was so much smaller.

  • Amaury Jacquot
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    interesting to see how the discourse is geared towards the fact that having the whole thing as one monopolistic company is "good for the consumer"

  • Jesse G.
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    17:38 208 cables, 2400 pairs in each one. That's nearly half a million pairs!😦

  • George Luongo
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    what about the 1965 blackout. there must have been more than half a million calls that night on the night of November 9th 1965 when the whole Northeast was plunged Into Darkness.

  • billyboi57
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    For all of this the U.S. government felt that it had to dismantle this monopoly in the interest of the people of the United States.

  • zordmaker
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Except today, you can add that the entire area would also be without money or any form of commerce.

  • Billy Lowe
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Wow does this bring back memories. I was a Crossbar 5 switchman in Westchster County NY and remember rewiring the markers and FAT frame (Foreign Area Translator) so the affected exchanges wouldn't choke the network.

  • mogwopjr
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    I work in the fourth largest Central Office for our section of whats left of Ma Bell…. I can't imagine replacing our MDF or COSMIC frames. 4 of them at nearly a quarter city block long each. Then there is the copper/fiber in the vaults. The 3 DMS' would probably be replaced with soft switches. The Bell System is sure not the family it used to be. What a great family effort that was to get New Yorkers back in service!

  • Michael Sheehy
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Try to find FIRE: The Second Avenue Story on eBay. Great glossy booklet about the recovery.

  • Marcel Zatko
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    I love telephony, I always did since I was a child. Actually I used or tried make maps of utilities when I was going on 8 years old . How many child s do that. Bye.

  • David James
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    I started working for AT&T in a fast track to management program right out of college in 1990 when i was 21. Some of these guys were still there in executive roles.

  • None Ar
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    13:27 DAMN!

  • Alarm Tech911
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Now the blue guy spends more effort than this stealing money from overage charges…its sad.

  • Mike Gallant
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    AT&T in its finest hours!

  • Preston Jones
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    That is pretty amazing to watch. Must have been an absolute madhouse of work force and hustling.

  • snapper mower man
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    how did the fire start any way

  • Southern Illinoisan
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Smoking helped ease the tension it seems………

  • denis ryan
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    I'll bet you're a management asshole..fuck off loser

  • diego hermosillo
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Only if Cellphone providers Cared this much now a days

  • Zachary Keenan
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    This guy reminds me of Bobo from the Jewpacabra episode of South Park.

  • BABABONDOGUY
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    I personally believe that this awesome undertaking happened quite a bit faster than "normal" because the large percentage of New Yorkers and their work together and their "Get er' done" spirit. I am not from New York, but surely would be proud to say that I was. SUPER JOB TO ALL  INVOLVED IN THE RESTORATION!!!

  • Wa3ypx
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    wow that was right before I got hired on the FD. I remember carrying those HEAVY air packs

  • Roderick Cloutier
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Amazing1

  • kjclark1963
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Was this strictly a NYT building or did Long Lines have any equipment (e.g., a #4A-ETS) on a floor?

  • Brian791979
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Ma Bell!

  • Arabhacks
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    Datacenters are distributed with backups.
    One datacenter dies , the question is now how quickly can the backups be duplicated and distributed.
    The actual physical datacenter is but a minor footnote.
    The internet is so redundant and fault tolerant that you might not even notice a failure, even if the datacenter were to burn to the ground.

  • Arabhacks
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    After that the Bell System wanted some federal concessions.
    What did happen after the huge media attention was the federal government started an investigation that would break up the Bell System 7 years later.
    The media wanted to know exactly what everything cost.
    And the numbers did not add up, things were being billed 2 and 3 times over.
    Open the telephone to free market was the cry.
    Now, due to deregulation, cellular carriers abound.
    Phones are a disposable item.
    All due to one fire.

  • Kevin
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    "What can you do today without a telephone? I don't think anyone can get through the day without using a telephone once or twice." @ 09:30
    An interesting parallel to today. If some of the world's largest datacenters suffered a similar disaster, what would we do? Could we fix everything within 3 weeks?

  • Bobby Sanchez
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    very interesting video, any info on what started the fire?

  • Michael Sheehy
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    In what building were the planning meetings? 140 West Street? 1095 A of A?

  • Andy Cook
    Posted at 07:38h, 26 April

    The frame is a connection point between the OE/switch to the vault which is where the cable leaves the CO – typically 66 or wirewrap connections can be made there preventing wear and tare on the switching equipment and damage to the cable leaving the building.