Ammonia Gas as a Fire Extinguisher.

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.

Ammonia Gas as a Fire Extinguisher.


Ammonia Gas as a Fire Extinguisher.

To the Editor of FIRE AND WATER.

At the convention of the National Association of Fire Engineers at Detroit last year the question was raised in regard to ammonia gas as a fire extinguisher. Chief Seay of Rome, Ga., was reported as saying that ammonia gas was not an efficint extinguishing medium. This called out some very pertinent questions from J. M. Hower, Jr., of Cleveland, O., which questions were not answered by Mr. Seay; therefore, on January 31 I addressed a communication to your valuable paper, in which I made the assertion that ammonia gas, as it is emitted from the preparation I use in suppressing fires, is the most powerful fire extinguisher that has ever been discovered.I gave my reasons for said assertion. The object of my communication was to invite discussion upon that subject which might prove of service to firemen and underwriters all over the country. If anyone can bring forward facts to disprove the stand I take in regard to ammonia gas as an extinguisher, I would be glad to have it done through the columns of FIRE AND WATER. We are all seeking for information based upon facts.

Harry W. Bunghurst of Seattle, who signs himself Civil Engineer in a communication to FIRE AND WATER of February 28, misjudging the motive of my communication, and without advancing one word of argument, or throwing one ray of light upon the subject, simply eulogizes Chief Swenie and the Chicago Fire Department.

Mr. Bunghurst says: “ Your issue of February 7 contains a communication by F. M. Mahan on ammonia gas as a fire extinguisher, in which a determined stand is taken in opposition to the opinions of some of the best authorities on fire matters in this country.” Will Mr. Bunghurst please name “some of the best authorities on fire matters” who have condemned ammonia gas as a fire extinguisher ? What experience have they had in fighting fires with ammonia gas ?

Mr. Bunghurst says: “ The admission that Chief Swenie is not favorable to ammonical gas machines was not wise on the part of Mr. Mahan, for everybody knows that the Chicago Fire Department is progressive as well as efficient, and that Chief Swenie is one of the best authorities on fire matters in the world. Why “unwise,” Mr. Bunghurst? What does Chief Swenie know about ammonical gas machines? Why nothing. I have it from his own lips, and what is more, he stated to me that he did not want to learn.

I am ready to prove by competitive test the truth of my assertion that ammonia gas, as it is emitted from the preparatim I use in suppressing fires, is the most powerful extinguisher that has ever been discovered, and I challenge Mr. Bunghurst of the Seattle Fire Department and civil engineer, or Chief Swenie to disprove it. Will eiiher of them accept the challenge? F. M. MAHAN.

CHICAGO, March 12.