Ammonia Gas as a Fire Extinguisher.
To the Editor of FIRE AND WATER:
I have read the letter of J. M. Hower, Jr., of Cleveland, asking for more light on the “vexed question” before the Detroit Convention, viz., “ammonia gas,” and I have been expecting that Brother Seay would supply the information. Since reading Mr. Hewer’s letter I have also received from Secretary Hills the report of the proceedings of the convention. As this report will not reach all the readers of FIRE AND WATER, perhaps some remarks from me will not be considered wholly unprofitable, inasmuch as it was the reading of my paper on modern chemical engines, at the said convention, which stimulated this inquiry. No act of the convention as a body was passed, either adopting or rejecting the use of ammonia gas or carbonic gas, as a fire extinguisher; neither was their adoption sought for or asked. My paper was prepared and read under an invitation of the committee, and mention was made of the several gases most commonly used in the preparation of fluids for fire extinguishing purposes without, however, stating whether either was used in my engine. This paplr was received and ordered entered in the proceedings by unanimous vote of the convention. At the following evening session a motion was made in my absence to reconsider, with a view to expunge said paper from the proceedings, on the ground that I had mentioned “ammonia gas” as one of the five or six gases which could be used as an extinguisher of flame, and that “ ammonia gas ” was combustible itself. This motion prevailed to the extent that further discussion should be had, and that I was to be notified to be present when the question should be called for final action. At the next evening session it was called up, and Messrs. Lindsay, Taylor and Seay were leaders in the discussion on one side, and Brother Newbury and myself on the other. Over an hour was consumed, when the final question went to the house, and the paper with all its faults (ammonia gas included) was accepted, and ordered printed in the proceedings. (See pages 120-128, inclusive, and pages 64 and 65 of the official report.)
With this explanation, the reader will be prepared to understand how this became a vexed question before the convention. No especial importance was attached in my paper to ammonia gas over carbonic gas. Ammonia gas was assailed by at least one member of the convention in the discussion that followed but even this was not supported by the members. As a matter of fact, ammonia gas .is a valuable fire extinguisher ; this is easily demonstrated, but how to get it upon the fire is or has heretofore been the important question. Its diffusion in air is rapid, displacing equal parts of oxygen. Being an oxygen extinguisher it also becomes a flame extinguisher, for without oxygen there can be no flame, no fire, no combustion. For complete combustion we must have the full complement of oxygen in air, or more, and if we remove by any means ten per cent, flame will cease and fire will die. In many countries of Europe ammonia is used with salt in dry or powdered form, with good results, but the application or process of throwing this would be too slow and uncertain for American firemen. It is found that water will absorb and carry about 1000 parts of ammonia gas, and this fluid can be thrown most effectively by air power stored for this purpose, in separate containers, and the heat will liberate and set free the extinguishing gas.
Brother Seay asserts that ammonia gas is dangerous in its use, and will add fuel to the flames. Isn’t it a little strange that the German chemists who have written on this subject never knew this ? Isn’t it a little strange that those enterprising men who have supplied all the nations on earth with glass ball extinguishers didn’t find this out? Just think of sixty millions of glass balls sold as fire extinguishers that will add fluid to the flames ! As to the Detroit convention, it is safe to say that nine-tenths of its members had experimented with, or witnessed results at fire tests, where ammonia gas was a prominent, if not the most important agent. The presence of ammonia is so easily detected that there need be no doubt. By dropping a small piece of lime into any fluid any one can determine this question.
Now, gentlemen of the jury (readers of FIRE AND WATER) and Mr. Ilower, Jr., in particular; whether ammonia gas is an extinguisher of flame luckily does not depend upon what Messrs. Newbury and Hutson on the one hand, or Messrs. Seay and Lindsay on the other, say. At an expense of five cents a demonstration may be had that will prove it a powerful and reliable extinguisher ; moie than this, it will prove that he who would prepare a paper on the line marked out by the honorable committee under topic 14, viz.: ” The modern chemical engine as applied for the extinguishing of fires— what chemicals can be used with powerful effect, and how to use them,” and presume to read the same before a body of intelligent fire chiefs, omitting in this class ammonia gas, would be unworthy of the confidence or respect of that honored body.
CHICAGO, April 4.