When I was young -- and after I was grown -- I found it fascinating and even reassuring to know that one could go to almost any corner of the city, especially in residential neighborhoods, in case of a fire. There on the corner stood that familiar gray, embossed cast-iron post, with a red fire box atop and a domed amber light shining into the darkness of the night. The small sign below the handle once read: "Pull Handle to Break the Glass." Then one was supposed to stand by one's post until the engines arrived, and one could direct them to the scene of the fire.

Now, slowly but surely and with the advent of cell phones, which nearly everyone carries either in pocket, purse or automobile, the bright red fire alarm boxes have been removed from service, but their jagged cables and wires remain a reminder of what once was.

Undoubtedly, the city is saving a lot of money by cutting off this protective communication system. Perhaps it was obsolete compared with the ways other cities were handling fire emergencies. Perhaps cell phones have made a startling improvement.

But the city forgot one thing: These iron monuments still are standing, now unpainted and rusted with age, all over town. Since they were taken out of service, I imagine the city decided not to bear the expense of painting them on the chance that they someday would be put back in service.

Dotting the landscape from Georgetown to Anacostia are hundreds of these poles with cables and wires protruding. Is it asking too much, after all these years, to have these monuments to our past removed? After all the effort that Mayor Tony Williams has made to rid the city of graffiti, I would think that he would welcome the idea of ridding the city of what have become rusted eyesores.

HUGH M. NEILL

Washington