A New Technical Department

A New Technical Department

Foreword of an Important Development

THE following article has been prepared for the Fire Engineer by the author of Science in Fire Fighting. Its purpose is to show the need in the fire service for a magazine conducting a technical department, in which the principles of strategy involved in fire fighting evolutions, and the principles of science that may be observed in connection with fire fighting operations, are explained by men who know fire in all its moods and who understand the principles of strategy and of science involved in fire control. The author has assured the Fire Engineer of his deep and abiding interest in the work of such a department and has undertaken to advise and aid in its direction so far as it may be done without interfering with his work as an officer of the New York Department. We trust that our technical department will aid towards the rapid growth of a Scientific Engineering Profession of Fire Control, which forward-looking firemen agree is in process of development, and for which there seems to be a very serious demand.

The technical department of a magazine having a widely scattered circulation among firemen furnishes an excellent opportunity to render material public service. The wide distribution of such a magazine enables progressive firemen, in distant parts of the English-speaking world, to keep informed upon the progress that is being made in fire fighting methods, and in other important matters, among the more progressive fire departments. More important, yet, it enables its widely scattered audience to keep informed upon the educational progress that is taking place in the service h or not only is it able to furnish its readers with the best as well as the most advanced thoughts upon fire control, as they are expressed by fire officials, but through its information upon questions asked at’promotion examinations in different parts of the world, it is able to keep them informed upon the development of fire control thought among insurance engineers and the officials of civil service departments. The unanimous approval, which a change in the manner of arrangement, as well as in the nature of the study matter that has recently been offered upon fire control, has received from all who are likely to have a voice in the preparation of questions in future promotion examinations, renders it certain that such questions will show the effect of the new form of thought. On account of the splendid opportunity that is now offered by the transition stage in the development of education upon fire control, the present is a most opportune time for extending the activities of the educational department. But even if no such immediate need nor special opportunity were at hand, it is high time that a comprehensive attempt were made to place the teachings of firemen upon a sound, scientific, educational basis. For as the ever increasing volume of fire losses shows there is grave need in the fire service for the exercise of the very best talents which that service is capable of developing.

Apart from the consideration just discussed the present is a most opportune time for the promotion of scientific education among firemen, for the people of the present generation have had a better opportunity than those of any other, of observing the facility with which men of liberal scientific training were able to weld great masses of wholly untrained men into organizations capable of effective co-operation, and as a result of this observation will be more favorably disposed towards the promotion of mental training among officers of civil service departments than were the people of any former generation. Not only have our young men had an opportunity of observing how readily and how quickly those who possessed the advantages of university or college training mastered the rudiments of the military art, how successful they generally were in transmitting part of that learning to others, and how well the co-operative labors of different departments, branches, and operating units, were planned, timed, and conducted by them, but the general public have been accorded the advantage of observing one mighty lesson, and one that will greatly influence the attitude of the younger portion of this generation towards liberal education, and particularly so where it is a question of education for those who seek responsible positions in the public service. The lesson that is destined to do so much for the educational advancement of the fire service, as of every other branch of the public service, is that which may be gathered from the consequences resultant upon the withdrawal of Russia from, and the entry of this country into, the World War. In the change of forces that thus took place the observant saw the absence of Russia’s ten million seasoned troops more than compensated for by the entry of a country possessing practically no army and separated from the contestants by thousands of miles of sub-marine infested waters. The extraordinary nature of this result becomes even more pronounced by consideration of the highly favorable position of the Russian forces for making their might a decisive factor in the war, lying as their territory does, beside that of the enemy for many hundreds of miles. Thoughtful people, of course, realize that the fundamental cause of Russia’s weakness lies in the low educational status of the masses and particularly the low educational status of the subordinate officers of the army, and they also realize that the astonishing efficiency displayed by the American forces was rendered possible, within the brief period allowed for training, only because the men chosen as officers had in almost every instance the advantage of extensiye intellectual development. As the young men from the army of those days advance in the fire service they will be particularly keen to observe inefficiency due to lack of training upon the part of officers, and their protests upon this matter will find public officials interested listeners. So, the near future will be a period during which the fire service will be peculiarly susceptible to improvement in its educational status.

We believe our readers will welcome this announcement. We know that the information contained there-in will be of real use. It is carrying out our idea of service in being able to present such educational material as this.—Editor,


Old ideas die hard, but are eventually compelled to give way before new ones brought into being by the needs arising from changed conditions. The idea that knowledge acquired from experiences encountered in fire fighting is all that is necessary, in the way of training, for the development of competent fire officers gained general credulity at a time when the duty of firemen consisted largely in guarding the homes of the people and their lives while in these homes. For many years after the passage of the volunteer fireman, and still to some extent in old residential districts, the work of firemen savored much of the melo-dramatic. In those days, residences, hotels, places of amusement etc., were veritable fire traps. Loss of life by fire was frequent, so the ideal fireman was he whose rescue was most fittingly staged and reported in most picturesque phrases. Although the duties of men serving in commercial districts are as unlike those performed by old time firemen as the work of the men on a submarine is unlike that demanded from the crew of a sailing ship, yet the idea of the hero firemen clings to the public imagination, though with no more apparent reason than there is for the idea that the engineer of a sub-marine should be a jolly tar.

There is no purpose to question the contention that sufficient may be learned from practical experience to enable men to fulfill, in a fairly satisfactory manner, the duties of fire officers in localities where residential buildings predominate, but it is contended that a great deal more is necessary to fit men for the task of successfully solving the problems of fire control that are presented by the conditions encountered in commercial districts. It is impractical in an article of this character to go into the difference in the nature of the fire control problems that are encountered in residential and in commercial districts. The character of these differences and the lessons they contain will be fully developed at a later date, suffice for the present to maintain that the problems of fire control presented by commercial districts will demand for their proper solution not only the best intelligence of which the race is capable, but also extensive staffs of highly trained fire control engineers. And these engineers must, at the same time, be the officers commanding the fire fighting forces, for policies of fire control cannot be effectively applied and enforced by any other body of men. Little more than the evidence of our ever increasing fire losses should’be necessary to convince those intrusted with the direction of civic affairs that there is need in the field of fire control for more comprehensive policies than have yet been applied. Whether the defects are in the character of the regulations or in the manner of their enforcement, the remedy is the same. The work must be placed in the hands of men specially trained for the conduct of it. The need for a scientific engineering profession being made apparent, those familiar with the growth and development of professions will require little argument to convince them that the need will be satisfied, for such people know that every profession has grown up because progress demanded a character of work in some special phase of affairs that required training along special lines. They also know that wherever such a demand arose men came forward to meet it. In the interests of those who have not made special study of the development of professions a brief outline will be given here.

The development of the legal as a learned profession was in response to a demand for a body of laymen capable of working out a system under which it would be possible to keep reliable records of ownership of property. Although it may now seem strange that there ever was much difficulty about such a seemingly simple matter it was only after the reputation for learning of the legal profession was well established that a system of keeping records of title deeds was devised. The security that these records afforded encouraged the acquisition of wealth, which in turn promoted the growth of cities. Cities had not progressed very far in their growth when a difficulty was encountered which for centuries retarded their expansion, nor was this difficulty surmounted until the status for learning of the medical profession had long been recognized.

Modern methods of sanitation make possible the modern city. As soon as the problem of sanitation was disposed of, in a satisfactory manner, new difficulties arose, for it was found both profitable and convenient to provide employment and living accommodations for great masses of people within very limited areas. To make this possible, however, necessitated the erection of immense buildings and other great works, such as bridges, tunnels, aqueducts, canals and railroads steamships and docks, and the organization of great financial and commercial concerns. There were at first no men capable of designing the needed structures or of financing or successfully directing the construction of these great works. In answer to this need the great engineering profession, in all its variety, of architects, dseigners, etc., etc., grew up. How well these engineers have solved the problem needs no comment, but as the work of the lawyer created a need for the doctor and that of the doctor a demand for the construction engineer, so the work of the construction engineer has been productive of conditions that call for the services of the protection engineer. Now the work of protection is ninety-nine per cent a matter of fire control, for every question of protection, even questions so seemingly remote as protection against burglary in commercial buildings, is at bottom a question of fire control, and when the problem of fire control is solved, in the same satisfactory manner that the lawyer, the doctor, and the construction engineer have solved their great problems, other problems of this character will be found to have disappeared. The question that immediately concerns us, is:

Will the profession grow up within the fire service or will its coming, as was the case in the development of the professions referred to, await the advent of young men specially trained for the work before entering the service. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the answer of this question does not lie wholly with firemen, for the attitude of examination departments will be a very decisive factor in this particular. If civil service commissions and their staffs encourage the study of scientific fire control, then a scientific profession will grow up within the service; if civil service commissions do not encourage scientific fire control, the demand for scientifically trained men at the head of fire departments will be filled from other fields after some serious disaster. Firemen must, however, display ability to answer questions that demand reasoning rather than mere parrot-like repetition, for civil service must be guided, largely, by the capabilities of candidates. There is little doubt but the fireman who masters the principles of fire control will find the knowledge thus acquired of great aid to him in examinations. The fact that persons who find difficulty in memorizing often develop as excellent reasoners should encourage those who have tried the old method of studying fire control, but who failed at examinations, to try again. Memorizing is but encumbering the mind with what others have thought, reasoning is, with the faculty once acquired, the most enduring of pleasures. The former is a toil for slaves and distasteful to all but the slavish, the latter the gift, the possession of which enables us to appraise all others at their true value.


In undertaking to advise the management of the Fire Engineer upon the policy of the technical department of that magazine I am actuated solely by a desire to place within the reach of firemen and their officers the principles of strategy and of science involved in fire control. It is not the intention to teach of any new discoveries that have been made, but to present matter, much of which has already been written about, and all of which has been talked about, in a more accurate and comprehensive manner than it has before been presented. In lieu of teaching men the precautions that should be taken and the operations that should be executed at fires in commercial buildings, or at fires in resident buildings, particular attention will be given to illucidating and explaining the principles involved in these operations and in working out the evolution or operation that in logic and reason should be employed to meet a given condition whatever character of building it may be encountered in.

It is proposed to conduct in connection with, and as part of, the technical department an “Answers to Questions” column, in which questions upon fire fighting coming to the editor, shall be answered. In this column questions involving principles of the strategy of fire fighting will be answered in preference to questions of any other character. Second preference will be given to questions of general administration policy. Next in line will come questions in relation to operations involving principles of science. After which will come questions of a general character, in which no definite principle, or principle not before explained, is involved, such as simple questions on the art (as distinguished from the science and the strategy) of fire fighting, questions of discipline, of district and company management; questions of fire prevention and building inspection will also come under this heading. While upon the subject of questions it may be well to state that it would aid very materially if men sending in questions would permit their names to be published in connection with them. For questions so vouched for would stimulate the interest of others, and interest is essential, for while the Fire Engineer will do all in its power to promote firemen’s interests it can only offer and not compel the acceptance. A willingness to have your name identified with your question furnishes the very best evidence that you have accepted upon your part. It may be said further in this particular that a willingness upon the part of firemen to become identified with their work in this respect is almost essential to substanial educational progress.

As it is hoped in the near future to bring the Fire Engineer to the attention of many who have never made extensive study of fire control, it may be well to revert for a moment to the difficulties whiich students encounter when they first take up the study of fire fighting. They find the literature of the subject a loose array of poorly co-ordinated generalities, in which descriptions lack accuracy and explicitness, and in which discussions are so equivocal and ambiguous that it is impossible to gain any clear cut and definite idea from them. The difficulties seem to arise from the facts, first, that those who have the intimate personal knowledge of the subject lack the capacity for accurate expression, and second, that those who have the power of accurate expression lack the knowledge of fire fighting methods necessary to enable them to make the subject comprehensive. The more thoughtful students are sorely puzzled to find wide difference of opinion among fire officers. It is no exaggeration to say that there is not one evolution or operation involved in fire fighting, relative to the manner of performing which intelligent laymen might differ, upon which there is any general agreement amongst fire chiefs. A few instances will be cited by way of illustration. There are chiefs who advocate thorough and complete ventilation, which they say should be commenced immediately upon the arrival of the fire forces, while there are others equally experienced who hold that talk of ventilation is pure rot, and say that if the nozzle men do their part properly there is no need for ventilation. There is the widest differene of opinion as to when water towers and streams from without should be in operation; some hdlding that they should never be used until men are withdrawn from buildings into which such streams are directed, while others order up the water tower if they see smoke coming from a window. Officers differ upon the best methods of taking lines to roofs, of stretching up fire escapes. They differ upon the tools that should be used and the manner in which they should be used in forcing difficult doors, of opening shutters of buildings not equipped with fire escapes. They differ upon matters of overhauling, and even upon how rescues should be effected, and thus it is through the whole range of evolutions and operations. Although there are other grave defects in our educational methods they cannot for want of space be touched upon at the present. Before closing it may be well to say a few words upon what the Fire Engineer proposes by way of remedy for those educational defects. There will be no especial difficulty in dispersing the confusion that arises from difference of opinion. To show the causes for these differences and point out the logical view should suffice. This the Fire Engineer proposes to do. The confusion arising from inaccuracy of expression will prove more stubborn.

To overcome this latter defect will prove a real difficulty because of the lack of writers intimately familiar with fire fighting methods and capable of giving expression to their knowledge in language susceptible of but one inteq^retation, and who at the same time can be induced to contribute to the limited audience that a writer upon fire control can reach. It would be utterly futile to expect that this work could be conducted purely as a business enterprise, but the Fire Engineer is supported by men whom you may trust to carry the work much further than the financial returns may justify, and in this lies the principal grounds for confidence of the ultimate success of attempts to develop fire fighting as a scientific profession.

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