LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Appreciates breadth of coverage

The January issue was excellent. I learned something from every article in this issue-two in particular: “Addressing the Growing Problem of Juvenile Fire Setting,” by Doug Leihbacher, and “Inspector Accountability: Managing Inspections in an Expanding Community,” by Don Smith. It is rare, except in your magazine, to see articles dealing with the “other side” of the fire service. Thanks.

Tim Oates
Deputy Chief, Prevention
& Building Division
Coppell (TX) Fire Department

Clarification on February article

Iwould like to point out a slight omission in my article, “Quantifying Computer Workloads” (February 2006). I neglected to explain that all time values should be represented as hours or fractions thereof. If the times are calculated in minutes, the answers will be too high.

Also, our department found the cutoff per computer to be four-one computer for four members, two computers for five to eight members, and three computers for nine to 12 members, for example.

Anyone who has questions or who would would like assistance can contact me by e-mail at cprusans@co.palm-beach.fl.us.

Craig Prusansky
Lieutenant/Paramedic
Palm Beach County (FL) Fire-Rescue

EPA apparatus changes raise concerns for the fire service

Isupervise our apparatus shop and maintain and develop specs for our department. I was very pleased to see the issues relative to the 2007 Environmental Protection Agency regulations addressed in “Change in Emission Standards Set for 2007,” by William C. Peters (Fire Engineering, February 2006). It hopefully will be an eye-opener for many fire departments. Peters’ insight has been a model for putting together proper specifications and apparatus planning.

For some time now, I’ve been talking to the Office of Emergency Management and the engine manufacturers on the impact of this somewhat drastic change for the fire service. These regulations will throw a proverbial “wrench” into what we took for granted in specifying fire apparatus. There is still no clear-cut determination of how the apparatus will actually perform, since none of these new engines are being tested in fire apparatus.

Our custom cab-over design has a major drawback with heat rejection, which could be 20 percent more than at present. This will probably negate the comfortable option of air-conditioned fire apparatus in our New Jersey summers unless more insulation is present, which is not a popular option because it cuts down on engine or interior cab space.

In addition, and more importantly, operating these engines at high rpms in a stationary (pump) mode is another concern when it comes to adequate seasonal engine cooling and heat transfer. With temperatures that will be produced at the catalytic converter and exhaust, other components, wiring, hoses, and so on, may “feel the heat” if not properly positioned and insulated.

Components like alternators may also be affected as higher temperatures reduce the efficiency through increased resistance. If the situation will be anything like when the automobile gasoline-engine pollution requirements were changed in the early 1970s, I believe we are in for some unpleasant surprises.

I’m not pro “air pollution,” but our equipment’s dependability and performance should be priorities, considering the main purpose of our apparatus. One working fire would probably produce more hazardous emissions than the engine would for a very long time.

I find it difficult to believe that we’re not exempt from these standards as our military is. I feel that the fire service doesn’t get the proper government support it requires to help achieve its mission. The International Association of Fire Chiefs or at least the National Fire Protection Association should have taken this on long ago, especially now that we are part of “Homeland Security” and, of course, “first due” in a crisis, be it natural or manmade.

Tom Parks
Captain and Fleet Officer
Cherry Hill (NJ) Fire Department

Remembering America’s biggest fire

Shortly after 5:12 a.m. on Thursday, April 18, 1906, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay area, devastating the city of San Francisco and surrounding communities. It was, however, a series of fires that did the most damage in the city. More than 28,000 buildings were destroyed, dwarfing even the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which consumed 17,500 buildings. It is now estimated that more than 3,000 people were killed in the San Francisco earthquake, including San Francisco’s fire chief.

It wasn’t as if San Francisco didn’t know that the conflagration time bomb was ticking away. With the city filled with closely spaced four- and five-story wood-frame structures and an inadequate water supply, it was only a matter of time before an uncontrollable large fire would erupt. In a now famous quote, the National Board of Fire Underwriters stated months before the fire: “San Francisco is violating all underwriting traditions and precedent by not burning up. That it has not done so is largely due to the vigilance of the fire department, which cannot be relied upon indefinitely to stave off the inevitable.”

In 1906, the San Francisco Fire Department numbered approximately 600 firefighters. They were led by Dennis Sullivan, a well-respected fire officer. Sullivan and his wife lived in an apartment on the third floor of Engine 3 on Bush Street (in San Francisco, chiefs of department were given this “perk”). When the early-morning quake hit, Sullivan reportedly covered his wife and himself with a mattress. Unfortunately, a wall from the hotel next door came crashing through the roof of the firehouse. Sullivan and his wife fell to the first floor as the floors collapsed, severely injuring the chief. He died at the Presidio hospital four days later.

Mayor Eugene Schmitz named John Dougherty acting chief. They had their hands full-more than 300 distribution water mains were broken (it is estimated that there were 23,000 breaks in smaller pipes and service connections), many structures had structural damage, and at least 50 fires were burning (many south of Market Street and east of Sixth Street). The telephone and telegraph systems (including the fire alarm telegraph system) were disabled. San Francisco was on its own.

Firefighters used anything available to fight the fires. They used the brick drafting cisterns buried under some streets in the city. These cisterns were intended as a backup to the water mains but were limited in size and were quickly exhausted. The firefighters also used sewage where available.

As the city attempted to muster its resources to deal with the unfolding disaster, General Frederick Funston (acting commandant of the Army’s Presidio) felt that the city’s police force would be overwhelmed with law enforcement problems such as looting. He ordered his troops into the streets, even though martial law had not been declared.

Doughterty first called for explosives from the Army’s Presidio to create fire breaks at 6:30 a.m., just over an hour after the quake. Explosives had been used in previous conflagrations, most recently at Paterson, New Jersey, in 1902 and Baltimore, Maryland, in 1904, with mixed results. In San Francisco, however, the extensive use of black powder by untrained hands (including many of Funston’s troops and civilians) started many additional fires; the powder ignited the building as it exploded. Artillery pieces were even used! Dynamite, a material with much greater brisance (shattering power), yielded much better results.

It wasn’t just the indiscriminant use of inappropriate explosives that started more fires. The famous “ham and eggs” fire started in a stove with a cracked chimney around 10 a.m. near Hayes and Gough Streets. This fire, which grew into one of the largest, could have been extinguished had a small amount of water been available.

On the second day, the fires marched north toward Nob Hill. By the third day, Saturday the 20th, the fire moved through Telegraph Hill to San Francisco Bay. Successful use of dynamite along Van Ness Avenue (a major street running generally north and south) prevented the conflagration from moving into the “Western Addition” and on to the Pacific Ocean.

When the final embers were extinguished, San Franciscans took stock of the losses. The fire had consumed an area of 4.7 square miles, 508 city blocks. Among the estimated 3,000 fatalities were three firefighters, including Chief Sullivan. Of the 28,188 structures burned, 24,671 were wood frame. Many key structures were destroyed, including City Hall, the Hall of Records, the Hall of Justice, the county jail, five police stations, 27 firehouses, three hospitals, 39 churches, 31 schools, and the main library. The insurance industry estimated losses of $1 billion.

San Francisco quickly rebounded. Streets were cleared, and new structures were quickly erected. Among the fire protection improvements made was a redundant firefighting water-pumping system, taking suction from San Francisco Bay. Ironically, calls for improvements to the building code and the creation of “fire limits” (zones in which wood-frame building would be banned) were ignored in the immediate aftermath of the fire. One of the most visible changes eventually brought to the city’s streetscape (that can be seen today) was the engraving of street names in the sidewalks at street intersections, allowing firefighters and the public to identify their location when the next “big one” strikes.

Glenn Corbett
Professor of Fire Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (NYC)
Assistant Chief,
Waldwick (NJ) Fire Department
Technical Editor, Fire Engineering

Donald J. Cannon
Professor of History
St. Peter’s College
Jersey City, New Jersey

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