A CENTURY’S PROGRESS.
PROGRESS IN THE SCIENCE OF FIREFIGHTING.
(Specially written for FIRE AND WATER.)
WHEN Prometheus stole the sacred fire from heaven, cunningly hidden in the hollow of a reed, and taught the ignorant earthlings of the day that in it was contained the principle of life, he was the first to pave the way for the universal use of that element, without which man would still have been in that state of barbaric simplicity which hardly knew its right hand from its left. With the knowledge of its usefulness as a helpmeet for man came also that of its tyrannical and overwhelming power as a master, transforming it from a simple household drudge to an all too potent foe, whose triumphant sway, even in the twentieth century, men are not unfrequently powerless to resist.
Of course, so long as men dwelt chiefly in tents, and so long as the fenced cities of the day consisted of mere mud hovels, defended by a mud wall against any attacks from without, fire loss, even in the lightest degree,was a something unknown. So long also as the cave-dwelling age or that of the lake-dwellers in their rude huts thatched, if thatched at all, with a mixture of sedge and clay, sheltered the men of prehistoric days, or, indeed, while the huge piles of granite and marble, whose vast remains are seen today in Egypt, Assyria, and Eastern India, the Cyclopean structures of Greece and Italy—antedating by hundreds of yeurs the splendid temples and palaces of Greek and Eutin times, those who inhabited them could afford to hold an outbreak of fire in contempt—it was only the poor downtrodden serfs of peasants and slaves whose huts the flames ever ravaged—and the lives of such as these were cheap. Today, in the beginning of the twentieth century, it is not very different in some parts of Europe, such as Constantinople and some miserable villages in Russia. It is much the same in many cities of Hindostan and China, where countless wretched hovels of reed, or cane, or at best mud and grass, are huddled together in most fire-inviting disorder. At frequent intervals these are swept by the flames, only to be run up again to court a like destruction.
HOW IS IT AT HOME ?
In this respect quite a large number of the villages— even of some ambitious towns and small cities in the United States and Canada are in nearly as bad a plight, and without the same shadow of excuse as in the almost barbarous districts in Europe and Asia, where lack of knowledge and an apathy, the offspring of fatalism,render the people indifferent to danger and callous amid suffering. A glance at the list of fires including those from $10,000 upwards which appears weekly in the columns of FIRE AND WATER,where there is an equal lack of fire protection and fire insurance, bears witness either to a reliance on Providence amounting to superstition, or a stupid and criminal carelessness about, and disregard of the rights of others, which certainly should not be among the ruling characteristics of the twentieth century. Strange as it may seem, it is not the big conflagrations that swell the yearly losses that yearly cause the annual ashheap of this country to show a large row of figures reaching far into the hundreds of millions of dollars. The fierce and destructive conflagrations, as a rule,are either forest fires or fires which break out in the large business places in our great cities, and, generally speaking, are the exception rather than the rule,and not unfrequently are traceable rather to starvation of the department and the water system, or the presence of politics in the city councils which has affected both the morale and the personnel of the firelighting force. Taken all round, It will be seen that the mischief is done by the number of what may be called less destructive fires where the loss falls below $50,000 or even $25,000. Eliminate these from the list and the showing would by no means be so formidable. And here it may be noticed that the mere fact of these smaller fires being so rapidly controied and thereby prevented from assuming destructive proportions speaks well for the efficiency of our twentieth century means of extinguishing fire. It is quite within the recollection of hundreds of our firemen when, even with the best intentions and the means at their disposal, it was impossible for the men and apparatus to reach the scene of a fire before it had gained such headway as not only to cause the destruction of the building in which it broke out, but also to spread on each side so fiercely as to involve other buildings in the common destruction.
OUR EXCELLENT FIRE DEPARTMENTS.
And in that particular is to be found the excellence of the fire departments on this continent. A wellregulated up-to-date department—especially if full paid, as ought to be the case in every city of any pretentions to importance—differs as totally from the old volunteer fire departments of the first part of the last century both in men and in equipment as these did from the crude attempts at fire departments and fire equipment which did duty in 1800. These, again, differ from the bucket brigades of preceding centuries, right back to early English, French, and Dutch organizations of that character, when to stop a fire were called to the scene old tanks on wheels, with most primitive handpumping arrangements, heavy brass nail-studded leather hose, ordinary buckets with which to keep the supply up (that supply itself coming from any well or spring or brook available) rickety old ladders, and crews taken at haphazard from tho bystanders. The sole means of turning in an alarm was, as today in Turkey, China, quaint Alpine or Irish or Scottish villages, and in no few American and Canadian towns, by ringing a peal on an alarm bell, hung possibly as at Atlanta, Ga., in an oldfashioned fire tower, or sending men carrying lanterns if the fire were at night, and shouting “fire” at the top of their voices. Today we have the Gamewell system established in our streets, with its boxes on every hand, and its delicately arranged switchboards at the central station ready ut u moment’s notice to call out its twenty, forty, one hundred or more men and their apparatus to fly to the blaze often before it has had time to get well alight—a speed which is added to by the various auxiliary systems installed in schools,business houses, hotels, theatres, concert halls, and the like—some of these systems being so delicate that the slightest Increase in heat, such, for instance, as that of a lueifer match lighting in their neighborhood,causes them to go off and summon two or more companies of firemen. Of itself that is a wondrous achievment; but, taken by itself, it would not amount to half the battle, had not modern ingenuity devised the three horse and other hitches, the sliding pole, the various means for simplyfiing the opening and shutting the doors, the admirably trained horses which literally devour the space between the station and the fire.
A MODERN FIREHOUSE.
And here a word as to the arrangement of the firehouses is not out of place. Some belonging to the volunteer departments may be seen to be clubhouses more or less elaborately fitted up rather than workaday buildings, whose chief use is the housing of firemen and their apparatus. But even these follow the same ground plan and are moulded on the same lines, so ordered as to secure the maximum of convenience and all subordinated to the one idea of getting horses apparatus and men out in the minimum of seconds. By the employment of Buch means as thsse alluded to our firemen, if only duly summoned and properly equipped, are able to reach a fire and get to work in a few seconds,in contradistinction to the days when ihe apparatus had to be slowly and painfully hauled to the scene of action by relays of volunteers harnessed to long ropes—too often to find either that their labors had been altogether in vain or that through defective hose, or lack of wuter supply, for then there were not fire hydrants at. every few yards, nor expensive water systems — the best they had were tanks dug at intervals at certain street corners)they were of no use. As in the days offthe great fire in London, and on many occasions since, recourse was had to heroic measures, and gunpowder accomplished what the firemen had failed to do. And just as the old days of the rope-hauled fire-engine are at an end, so those of all obsolete methods drawn by horses is nearing its end.
The Introduction of what were called high buildings of tweuty-ftve or thirty years Ago imported new peril into the fire service—those of saving lives from the topmost floors of such structures and of reaching them, when on fire, with the greatest possible speed and efficiency from the ground. To these needs are due the aerial ladder in all its various shapes and the watertower and its modifications in all our large cities, as well as the building of those magnificent lire boats, such as are to be seen at work in New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and elsewhere. The contrast between one of these gigantic fire-fighters and the rafts used for the same purpose today as 200 years ago in Dutch and German seaport towns is objectively known by a glance at the illustration accompanying this article—a contrast which, perhaps, more vividly than any other marks the advance made in fire-fighting in this the twentieth century.
THE CHEMICAL ENGINE.
In their own way also do the chemical engines make similar progress, and many a country town, to say nothing of many a store or apartment in this and other cities can arise and call blessed these ingenious inventions which, by simply throwing chemical finid upon a slight fire or even on one of larger growth has extinguished it at a tithe of the cost which must have ensued, had a deluge of water from a steamer been thrown upon it. Of ail the fire-fighting inventions of the nineteenth century, the chemical fire engine, whether singly or in combination form, lias proved itself one of the most useful tools in the fire service of the day.
OTHER NEW DEVICES.
And so it is with the other implements used; and space would be unnecessarily sacrificed if details were entered into as to the twentieth century hose and its improved couplings, the many new nozzles—all more or less meritorious, the cellar pipes, the life-saving apparatus, the head protectors, and the many devices without which no first-class lire department can be looked upon as complete. Muny of these devices, as well as those already referred to are peculiar to America, and are virtually principally called for in America, where the buildings are not of the slow-burning type met with in Europe, where, therefore, such excessive speed in getting to a fire is thought not to be so necessary. But the recent exhibition of fire-fighting methods at Vincennes, in connection with the international fire congress held last year at Paris, has opened the eyes of foreigners to the superior advantages of the American system and provoked a spirit of emulation, which will likewise be productive of imitation on the part of those who are responsible for the management and equipment of non-American fire departments.
Nearly all these improvements in firefighting have been made during the last thirty years,and are due in great measure to the introduction of paid fire departments and the erection of high buildings in so many of our large cities. The last cause has gone far to revolutionize the science of fire-fighting and the more general acceptance of fire-resistent, if not of absolutely fireproof structures lias given rise to considerable speculation as to what shall be its future. There are some who hold that the day of the usual appurtenances of a lire department will be discarded, and that in the future the chief reliance of lire chiefs will be upon interior standpipes, firepumps, and, where possible, on independent fire lines and fireboats. Others take the contrary view, and hold that there will be greater scope for improved apparatus, as experience in this city, in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Pittsburgh has show n that the so-called fireproof buildings neither act the part of firestayers amid surrounding structures nor can they be looked upon even as safe in themselves. Many regard them as absolute sources of danger, and quote, not altogether without reason, the recent explosion and accompanying disastrous fire in the Tarrunt drug warehouse—the result of a too implicit confidence in the safety of w hat w as considered an absolutely fireproof building. Time alone can solve the problem, and doubtless as the science of electricity, with its facilities for business and locomotion increases, so also will the dangers attendant upon its free introduction increase m due proportion—the result beiug still further changes and still further improvements in fire-fighting apparatus, all, of course, in the direction of greater efficiency, expedition, and ease of handling.