A Coal Pocket Fire Gets Away
Fire Spreads to Water Works Pumping Station Putting It Out of Commission—Large Area Involved
IT is not often that a small fire department is faced with the problem of extinguishing a fire in a coal pocket, garage, lumber yard and oil tank all burning at the same time. That is what the fire force described in this article of the series on administration encountered when a coal pocket fire got away from it.
The city in which this fire occurred has a population of about 12,000 and is located in the central west. The fire department consists of five companies, three engine companies and two truck companies. One of the engine companies and one of the truck companies are volunteer organizations while the rest are paid companies, but poorly manned.
Engine Co. No. 1, a paid company, had four men on duty at the time of the fire. This company was equipped with a 700-gallon triple combination machine with 1000 feet of hose; Engine Co. No. 2, also a paid company, likewise had a force of four men, and was equipped with a 500-gallon triple combination machine with 600 feet of hose; Engine Co. No. 3, a volunteer company, had a membership of 25 and possessed a 750-gallon triple combination carrying 1200 feet of hose.
Truck Co. No. 1, a paid company, with three men, was equipped with a city service truck while Truck Co. No. 2 was a volunteer company with a membership of 38 and possessed a city service truck.
Response to alarms at the fire described in this article was as follows: First alarm, Engine Cos. Nos. 1 and 3 and Truck Co. No. 1.
General alarm Engine Co. No. 2 and Truck Co. No. 2.
The water supply of the city was furnished by a direct pumping system, the pumping station being located directly across a 50 foot street from the coal pocket which burned. On the far side of the city was a 500,000 tank supplied from the city main and used to equalize the pressure and distribution of water during periods of heavy draught. When the pumps were in operation the pressure in the mains in the neighborhood of the fire stood at approximately 75 pounds. When the pumping station was out of commission and a heavy flow was required from the mains in the neighborhood of the fire, the pressure dropped to less than 30 pounds.
Description of Property Involved
The diagram herewith gives the general layout of the property involved, including the buildings surrounding this fire.
The coal pocket in which the fire started is located in the center of the block on Smith Street between 9th and 10th Avenues. It was of heavy timber construction, about 72 feet in height and was well filled with soft coal at the time of the fire. Directly behind the coal pocket was a bank of five fuel oil tanks mounted 12 feet above ground and each containing between 12,000 and 25,000 gallons of fuel oil.
Directly across the street from the coal pocket was the water works pumping station, as shown in the diagram.
The fire was discovered burning in the coal pocket by the night engineer at the water works pumping station about 5 a. m. on an October morning. He reported having smelled smoke for several hours prior to discovering the blaze which would indicate that the fire had had considerable start before detected.
The engineer promptly called up the fire department and the first alarm assignment responded. This assignment included Engine Cos. 1 and 2 and Truck Co. No. 1.
Immediately upon the arrival of the first engine company. two members were sent up into the coal pocket and discovered fire burning up beneath the roof above the coal. They retreated and lines were sent by ladders about half way up the coal pocket and then taken inside to a stairway but could make no further headway on account of the intense smoke and heat. This line was laid in by Engine Co. No. 1 stationed at hydrant 6. The line was equipped with 1 ¼ inch nozzle. It operated for a while, in an endeavor to cool off the atmosphere and make it possible for the men to proceed.
A second line was laid from Engine Co. No. 3, stationed at hydrant No. 4, to the rear of the coal pocket but no entrance to the pocket could be made at this point. The line was sent up by ladder and endeavored to wet down the roof of the coal pocket but with little effect.
Shortly after the second line was put into operation fire hurst through the roof and it was then apparent that the coal pocket was doomed, on account of the progress the fire had made and the inflammable construction of the pocket. The chief, arriving about this time, sent in a call for the remaining two companies, Engine Co. No. 2 and Truck Co. No. 2.
Engine Co. No. 3 remained at the rear of the coal pocket and continued to wet down as best it could while the line from Engine Co. No. 1 operated from the front of the building after withdrawing from the ladder.
Upon the arrival of Engine Co. No. 2, it was placed at hydrant No. 9 and a single line laid to the top of the one story garage. This line operated on the coal pocket and wet down the outside.
Coal Pocket Collapses
After operating for a few minutes with this arrangement of lines, the chief noted the Smith Street wall of the coal pocket bulging and ordered the men to withdraw to a point across the street. They had hardly done so when the front wall gave way and the burning coal was precipitated across Smith Street burying the line from Engine Co. No. 1. Water was shut off from this line, the line was broken, and two additional lengths put on and the company continued to operate from the Smith Street side to wet down the burning coal.
The line at the rear of the coal pocket was ordered to withdraw due to the unstable condition of the rear wall. This line also went to the roof of the garage, after having had to stop to put in two additional sections. The two lines on the roof of the garage operated on the coal pocket, wetting it down.
Shortly afterward the rear wall gave way and the nearest fuel oil tank was enveloped in burning coal. Thereupon both lines operating from the garage roof directed their streams on to this oil tank.
A seam must have opened in the oil tank for shortly after the lines got in operation on it, it took fire. The two lines still operated endeavoring to wet it down and save the other tanks.
The chief ordered a second line laid from Engine Co. No. 1 and Engine Co. No. 2, the line from Engine Co. No. 1 going to the rear of the greenhouse to operate on the oil tank while the other line from Engine Co. No. 2 went to the front of the building to help wet down the burning coal.
Little progress was made in this respect, and soon the street became so hot in front of the coal pocket that the lines operating on it had to withdraw.
A little later two additional oil tanks went up and the lines at the rear had to back away to save themselves.
The garage, too, soon became involved by fire due to the heat of the burning coal alongside the garage wall. When it became involved, the lines had to back away at a distance and operated at a great disadvantage.
Due to the danger of the lumber yard becoming involved, one line was assigned to cover it at the 10th Avenue side of the yard.
The lines withdrawing from the garage roof took the wet side of the fire, operating on the oil tanks and were apparently holding their own insofar as the fuel oil tanks were concerned. The garage fire began to get hotter and one of the lines from Engine Co. No. 2 was assigned to help cover it.
It looked for a while as if the department would succeed in their efforts to confining the fire to the coal pocket, fuel oil tank, and garage but it was suddenly discovered that the roof of the pumping station was afire. The department had to operate from either side of the pumping station but before any effective work could he done the roof dropped through forcing the employees of the pumping station to flee for their lives with a result that the pumps were soon stopped. This immediately reduced the water pressure in the mains and although there was a plentiful supply for the department for a short while, the pressure was poor.
A shifting of lines to operate on the pumping station left the power house to the west of the fire ex|>osed with the result that the roof of this building, too, became involved.
A complete reassignment of lines was necessary, and a stand was made on John Street to hold the fire from jumping this street to the storage yard. Lines were also assigned to cover the lumber yard and the frame dwelling.
W hen the fire finally was extinguished it was found that the coal pocket, garage, fuel oil tank, greenhouse, power house, and water works pumping station had been destroyed.
The Editor’s idea on the handling of this fire will be given in the next issue of this journal.