York City officials are mulling a proposal to terminate a fire-alarm system that's alerted firefighters for 127 years.

The cost of operating and maintaining the Gamewell system might finally outweigh its worth as a method of quickly directing emergency responders to the site of a fire, said York City Fire Chief David Michaels.

"Is it time we get out of the fire-alarm business?" Michaels asked the York City Council on Wednesday.

York's Gamewell system has been around since 1886. Michaels estimated 320 properties - mostly businesses - and 83 street boxes are connected to the system. Triggered by smoke in a building or by someone activating a street box, an alarm travels through electricity directly to the city's fire stations.

That's different from a modern alarm system monitored by a private company, which would notify local 911 dispatchers after being alerted to a fire. Dispatchers would then notify the fire department.

Those extra steps make most modern systems slower than the Gamewell system in terms of response time, Michaels said.

But, considering the cash-strapped city's financial situation, "it might be time to look to go away from it," he said.

Most properties connected to the Gamewell system are also hooked up to a private alternative, Michaels said, because redundancy is required by the state fire code. If the city terminates Gamewell, then some properties may have to find a backup.

But, Michaels said, most newer systems already meet the code's redundancy requirements. In other words, most businesses wouldn't have to contract with two companies to comply, he said.

Private systems offer other services Gamewell does not - notification of a smoke alarm's dead battery or a stuck elevator, Michaels said.

"We're still going to have safe buildings," he said.

Maintaining miles of the Gamewell system's wires costs about $84,000 a year, according to Councilman Henry Nixon.

That's also about how much the city collects in revenue each year from an annual $360 fee charged to connected businesses, plus the revenue from properties that pay a $5,000 hook-up fee, he said.

Public Works Director Jim Gross called the Gamewell system "an antique" the city is constantly repairing.

"Its reliability is becoming an issue," he said.

Councilwoman Renee Nelson asked how often firefighters are alerted by someone activating a call box on the street.

Michaels said he could remember two times that's happened in the past four years.

"It's not a high number," Michaels said. "I really have no way to track that, but it is a low percentage."

Nelson said she believes the call boxes remain an important asset, especially for people who do not have cellphones.

Councilman Michael Helfrich suggested giving businesses the option to opt in or out of the system before phasing it out. That way, he said, the city can gauge the public's opinion of the system.

The council agreed to gather more information before moving Michaels' proposal ahead for a vote.

The next discussion about the Gamewell system will likely be at the council's committee meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 27 at City Hall, 101 S. George St.

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.