A Second Failure of the High-Pressure System.
A second failure of the high-pressure system in Manhattan, New York, took place on Tuesday, December 15, when what might have been at most a $200 fire in the 6-story building at 213-17 Grand street resulted in a loss of well on to $100.000. The first failure was at another small fire at 9-11 Walker street, and resulted in a loss amounting to $125,000. On the last occasion Chief Croker is reported to have expressed his disgust in very forcible terms, and to have added: “If this thing (the high-pressure system) is to be unreliable, we shall have to go back to the old system. If not, the whole city will burn up some day.” The fire broke out early in the morning, and the flames spread rapidly to the L extension at 97 Elizabeth street. The usual four engines and the high-pressure hose wagon, with Deputy Chief Martin, answered the first alarm, and a telephone message was immediately sent to the high-pressure station, the water tower being set up in front of the burning building. No w’ater, however, was furnished, and soon the flames were bursting out of the 4th and 5th-story windows. A second alarm was turned in, which brought five additional engines and Chief Croker. Another call was sent to the station, and still there was no water, on which a third alarm was turned in, bringing five more engines. Meanwhile the engines on the ground were working well, and, although six lengths of hose burst, did good work and confined the worst of the fire to the three top floors, although the second and third floors were badly damaged. The flames, however, were confined to the place of origin, just as if the high-pressure system had been at work. The blaze took two hours before it was extinguished, and during that time many lives were in the greatest danger, and many fine rescues were made. ‘
There again seemed to be a disposition, on the part at least of the curbstone critics, to lay the blame for the non-appearance of the water on the firemen, while others argued that the irregular workings of the high-pressure system opposed no objection to the efficiency of the service, and claimed that, until the system and the method of handling the high-pressure lines had been thoroughly tried out and adjusted, severe criticism of defects were premature!
THE WATER DEPARTMENT EXPLAINS.
The explanation offered by Commissioner O’Brien, of the city water department, is given in full, as under;
“During the fire this morning at Elizabeth and Grand streets, a valve at the .intersection of Broome and Centre streets blew off at the dead end on Centre street. The gates necessary to shut off the dead end and continue the operation ol the high service were closed, and tile system remains in tact and with just the same number of hydrants in service that were in operation before the valve blew off. This valve and all that portion of the high-pressure fire main that crosses Centre on Broome street is hung up, owing to the construction of the bridge-loop subway on Centre street, and for a similar reason the high-pressure main on Centre street has not yet been laid. The exposed valve and main above referred to were braced by the subway contractor; but, while under service, evidently something gave way in the bracing and chains used to hang up the main, resulting in the blowing off of the valve. The danger to both our high-pressure and low’-pressure systems during the construction ot the subway tunnels is apparent and to this department a subject of constant anxiety. At the iarge excavation for the proposed Municipal building, at Chambers and Centre streets, the 24-in. high-pressure main and two large lowpressure mains have been exposed and supported by bracing for over a year, and may thus continue for at least one year and possibly two years more.” This explanation hardly explains sufficiently, inasmuch as it does not state whether or not any water appeared anywhere when the highpressure pumps were set to work. If it did, where did it make itself in evidence, and what hindered it from showing itself somewhere, if not at the scene of the fire? Why, also, if the alleged damage to the main existed, was it not discovered before? The answer given by the water department is that the break was concealed by the wooden covering of the street, put there by the contractors. There were two shut-offs, the department states, that would have been closed at once, if the existence of the leak had been known. But should that be accepted as an excuse? With such vital interests at stake, all of that main that is thus hidden from view should have been—should be—examined just for such leaks at least every day. On the supposition that the leak existed, the neglect of this precaution on the part of the city’s water department seems to call for some criticism. Chief Engineer de Varona claims that the “firemen must always bear the great pressure in mind. Even under the old method, the hose would sometimes get away from the men. Under the great pressure, the precautions must be greater; but the results warrant the installation of the high-pressure service as a remarkably efficient fire control. The accidents that have occurred are similar to what has happened in the beginning of some of the greatest improvements known to man. We must take these things philosophically. We arc not likely, in fact, to have another accident for an indefinite time, although, so long as the mains arc exposed in Centre street, there will be grave risks.” Mr. de Varona added that the expansion and contraction caused by the frequent changes in temperature would endanger the exposed mains to a great degree. The great objection to Chief etc Varona’s insistence that the “firemen must al ways bear the great pressure in mind” is that, in this case, as in that of the Walker street fire, there was no pressure at all to cause the hose to get away from the men, and if the frequent changes in temperature “endanger the exposed mains to a great degree,” then the greater is the necessity for constant expert inspection of these mains. The trouble has been that, the high-pressure, being a new thing in this city, but not in others, such as Cleveland, Philadelphia, or those which have the Holly system installed, New York ers have formed too high an expectation of it, as if it were all-perfect, whereas those who are accustomed to similar systems know just what is to be expected of it, and neither trust to it altogether, nor rest quiet under the mistaken belief that, with its installation, there is no further need for steam fire engines, or that a conflagration is impossible.