The New York City fire department is preparing to deactivate its 15,000 street alarm boxes throughout the city to save money and eliminate the thousands of false alarms triggered when the buttons are pushed.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano told the City Council during a budget hearing Wednesday that the move, which requires court and legislative approval, would save $6 million in the first fiscal year.

Of the 12,931 calls from alarm boxes in 2009, 85 percent - or 10,997 - were false alarms, the fire department said.

And of the fire department's 26,666 calls reporting structural fires in 2009, less than 1 percent - or 140 - came from an alarm box.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg suggested eliminating the system in his January budget proposal, but the idea dates back 15 years to his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani.

When Giuliani first tried to get rid of the system in the 1990s, he was thwarted by a judge after a group of deaf and hearing-impaired people sued, arguing alarm boxes were necessary for them to report emergencies. The court prohibited the city from deactivating the system.

The lawyer who filed the federal suit in 1995 for the Civic Association for the Deaf still sees a need. "The street alarm box system remains an essential service for the deaf and hearing-impaired in New York City," attorney Robert Stulberg said. - AP

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