Why Clients Are Replacing Gamewell Boxes With Digitize DET-16s

By Justin Sagalow

October 30, 2022

Many telegraph-based fire alarm systems across the country currently contain mechanical fire alarm boxes. One of the biggest domestic producers of these boxes is Gamewell.

gamewell box

This is an old gamewell fire alarm call box. They are mechanical fire alarm boxes that do not contain batteries or self-contained power supplies.

The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Company was originally formed in 1879 and still exists today as a division of Honeywell. Under Honeywell, Gamewell continues to manufacture and service mechanical fire alarm call boxes. Gamewell fire alarm boxes aren't the only mechanical boxes in use today. They are, however, the boxes that we are most commonly tasked with replacing.

The advantages and disadvantages of Gamewell boxes

Mechanical boxes, such as Gamewell call boxes, offer their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Their most notable feature is their mechanical nature.

Typically, in telegraph-based fire alarm monitoring systems that utilize mechanical fire alarm boxes, there is a central 100 milliamp power supply. This is hosted at a central monitoring location or fire department. The power supply is connected to a wire that loops around a long distance, such as a campus or city.

Mechanical reporting devices, like a Gamewell fire alarm boxes, can be found along this loop. They are hardwired to the loop and typically located inside of buildings or out on street corners. These boxes require no other power while they reside on this loop. All the necessary power is transmitted from the power supply, which is kept safely in the monitoring location.

While the longevity of this historic system is commendable, there are certainly improvements that can be made. Arguably the biggest flaw with these mechanical boxes is their inability to transmit multiple box codes.

Mechanical boxes typically transmit one box code. This means that, when responding to a triggered alarm, a response team has very limited information about the situation until they arrive at the location. They would need to arrive at the scene of the alarm and consult the fire alarm control panel to receive more detailed information about the alert.

Another major disadvantage of mechanical boxes is simply that they are mechanical. Utilizing mechanical construction as a means of communication was an innovative approach for a time when electricity was not widely accessible. It was an ingenious idea that has been relatively reliable for over one hundred years. However, like everything else in life, fire alarm boxes sometimes break.

It is not impossible to find services that perform maintenance on mechanical fire alarm call boxes. That being said, as more and more clients opt for the convenience of electronic transmitters, repair services that specialize in mechanical boxes are becoming increasingly harder to find.

The Digitize DET-6 and DET-16 electronic transmitters


This is a DET-16. The DET-16 is an indoor mounted sixteen-zone solid state telegraph transmitter that employs a unique code for each zone. It includes a CAM lock, display and keypad, AC transformer, standby battery and built-in charger. The unit is housed in a steel enclosure suitable for indoor mounting.

The DET-16 is a sixteen-zone solid state telegraph transmitter. It utilizes unique codes for each zone. The DET-16 includes an AC transformer, standby battery and built-in charger. Per its description on the product page, "the unit is housed in a steel enclosure suitable for indoor mounting."

With up to sixteen box codes, the DET-16 is equipped to provide fire departments and monitoring services with much more information than its mechanical counterparts. Most importantly, this information can be received right at the remote monitoring center, rather than at the site of the alert.

The DET-6 is similar in purpose and function, and is distinguished by only having six available box codes. In both transmitters, the transmission speed is adjustable to match that of mechanical boxes.


This is a DET-6B. The DET-6B is an indoor, mounted sixzone solid-state telegraph transmitter that employs a unique code for each zone. It includes a CAM lock, AC transformer, standby battery and built-in charger. The unit is housed in a steel enclosure suitable for indoor mounting.

The benefits of replacing gamewell boxes with Digitize DET-16s

The NFPA works hard to establish standards that prevent fires and protect everyone. In their pursuit to do so, they publish increasingly stringent codes regarding the monitoring of fire alarm, fire sprinkler, carbon monoxide, and other life safety systems.

To accommodate these various systems, telegraph-based fire alarm boxes need to be able to send multiple box codes to a monitoring or dispatch center. This is because a box code can only communicate one type of alert. Multiple codes are required to report different types of alerts. These alerts include fire, carbon monoxide, supervisory, and "trouble" alarms.

Depending on the size and purpose of the building, the NFPA may require the transmission of all of these different types of alerts. We have other blog posts on this site dedicated to identifying what your building's NFPA monitoring requirements may be. We always recommend that you check with state and local fire codes. It goes without saying that your fire prevention system should always be in accordance with the law.

For a telegraph-based system that currently has a Gamewell box, there are two solutions.

The first solution is to simply install more mechanical boxes. In addition to reporting different types of alarms, this may also be done to assign different box codes to different sections or floors of the building. The second solution is to replace a mechanical box with a Digitize DET-6 or DET-16 electronic transmitter.

There are many reasons why someone would opt to replace their mechanical fire alarm box with a unit like the DET-6 or the DET-16. In our experience, they usually have to do with wanting to expand the abilities of their system, save money, or avoid recurring maintenance problems.

By installing a DET unit, you can avoid the costly and time-consuming processes of installing and maintaining mechanical boxes. Once you have a DET unit installed and active, you can make further changes to your fire alarm system as your budget and installation capacity permits. Similar to updating your legacy fire alarm system, installing a Digitize DET unit into your existing fire alarm system saves you capital expenditure, personnel, and transport costs.

Replace your Gamewell boxes with Digitize DET-16s today

If you think that you might be interested in replacing the mechanical fire alarm call boxes in your fire alarm system with a DET-6 or DET-16, we recommend that you reach out to us immediately. Updating your fire alarm monitoring infrastructure is also a great opportunity to take care of any other improvements simultaneously.

When you call your Digitize engineer, you can also talk through any opportunities for improvement that you have in mind. We’ll also ask you a few questions to check for updated system design opportunities you may not have considered.

Digitize is ready to speak with you about your upgrade at 1-800-523-7232. If you prefer, you can also email us at info@digitize-inc.com

Justin Sagalow

Justin Sagalow

Justin Sagalow is quite uniquely qualified for his Marketing Writer Position at Digitize. Arriving at Digitize with experience in law, finance, and editorial positions, Justin's skillset allow him to effectively communicate how best Digitize can address each client's individual needs. From his...Read More