Amplifying the Voice of Authority

Amplifying the Voice of Authority

The Author Using Hand Microphone. The Amplifiers Are Seen at Rear of Truck

Loud Speakers Installed on Salvage Trucks Enable Jersey City Fire Officers to Make Themselves Heard Over All Noise at Fires

Thomas J. Wolfe

WALKING down the principal thoroughfare of a city in which I was visiting, my attention was attracted to the clamor of the fire apparatus as the engines responded to an alarm. Quite naturally, because of my official interest in such things, and because the source of the alarm seemed to be in the vicinity, I sauntered in that direction.

The fire was in a three-story office building and had gained considerable headway before the fire fighters reached the scene. The firemen were very prompt and efficient and had lost no time in “lining in.” A truck company had already placed its ladders and several firemen were on the roof of the burning building. Presuming upon my official position, 1 was permitted inside the fire lines to watch the operations.

Chief’s Voice Unheard, Because of Din

A Battalion Chief standing nearby, studying the situation with practiced eye and determining the most effective method to control the fire, having suddenly made up his mind, cupped his hands to his mouth and bawled stentorious orders to the firemen three stories above.

Although the Chief was the possessor of a robust voice, even I, standing not so many feet away from him. had difficulty in determining just what he was saying. This was easily understood because the clamor was terrific; the noise of arriving apparatus and the shouts of spectators and firemen adding to the din. As for the firemen on the roof, they paid no heed for the very obvious reason that they had heard not one word of the shouted instructions of the Chief. who was finally forced to send another fireman aloft to repeat the original orders. Not a little valuable time was lost as the result of this maneuver.

Peril of Firemen Narrowly Averted

As I stood watching the fire, my mind went in retrospect a number of years to the time when I was a police official and my official position as a precinct commander demanded my attendance at a three-alarm conflagration.

The firemen were having a difficult time of it and gases generated by the flames were taking their toil in reddened eyes and tortured lungs.

At a critical period in the battle, one of the walls of the burning building revealed a very ominous crack, of which firemen manning a hose nozzle on an adjacent roof were in total ignorance.

The officer in command shouted at the top of his lungs to apprise them of their peril and ordered them to a safer location, but although the imperilled firemen heard his shouts, their import was not intelligible to them. One moved close to the end of the roof and listened intently, but a gesture of lack of understanding was proof positive that the frenzied shouts of the Chief were not understood.

Fortunately, the imperilled firemen were notified of their danger in sufficient time to make a safe, if rather precipitous retreat. The retirement from their untenable position was none too soon, for hardly five minutes had elapsed before the weakened mass of brick toppled with a resounding crash.

How Surmount This Difficulty?

It occurred to me as I stood watching this fire in a strange city and thinking of a fire of many years before in Jersey City, that something might be done to make more intelligible the orders issued by the commanding officer and which could be heard above the ordinary clamor at the scene of a blaze.

As I stood there thinking, a picture of the gaping amplifier on the roof of the “Voice of Safety” car, used in the dissemination of safety propaganda in Jersey City, flashed through my mind.

“The voice of the operator of this car can be heard very clearly over a radius of two or three blocks,” thought I, “there is no reason why amplifying units attached to fire apparatus could not be heard very clearly above the din incident to a fire and, in addition, firemen, or other persons for that matter who might be imperilled, could be given instructions as to just what to do in cases of extremity.”

After all, the adoption of such a system would be merely a mechanization of the trumpets used by fire officers of another era in giving instructions at a fire, except that the sound of the voice issuing from the trumpet would be intensified a thousand times.

When I returned to Jersey City this problem was still in my mind and I lost no time in visiting Deputy Chief Myles Burke, in our Fire Department Repair Shops.

Deputy Chief Burke has done a very remarkable work in the operation of this very important unit of the department and the fire apparatus manufactured in the shops has been the source of much favorable comment from keen students of the art of fire fighting.

Install Amplifier on Salvage Truck

As always, Deputy Chief Burke was very receptive to my idea and suggested that a trial could be made by placing an amplifying device on a salvage truck, the manufacture of which had just been completed in the shops.

“The reason 1 suggest the installation of this amplifying device on this and the other salvage trucks of the department is that at least one of these units responds to every alarm of fire,” the Deputy Chief told me, “and because of this fact, this loud speaking equipment would be on the scene of any blaze, ready for service on evennecessary occasion. Every fireman working at a fire would recognize the distinctively amplified voice, would listen as a matter of habit, and would be responsive to any suggestions or orders.” To which sound advice I could do nothing else but agree.

Salvage Truck Described

A description of one of the salvage trucks of the Jersey City Fire Department is pertinent.

The sides of the truck are constructed in the form of closets, measuring about three feet high, two feet wide and running the length of the vehicle. The closets are made into sections, in order to store the equipment carried by vehicles of this nature. The space between the closets is used to carry hose and other equipment.

It was decided, after our conference, to place two loudspeakers on the rear of the top of the closets. These speakers were connected with the amplifying set, which was installed in a section of the closet on the right side, just back of the driver’s seat. The opening of a small door made the hand microphone, which was extended on a twenty-foot cable, easily accessible, the loud speakers were so constructed that the horns could be raised or lowered. In addition, the stands upon which the speakers were mounted could be swung from side to side.

Tests Prove Practicability of Device

Tests made since the installation of the amplifying system on the salvage trucks have justified my confidence in its practicability and there is no doubt but that the transmission of orders in this manner will greatly facilitate fire operations; especially if the fire is a dangerous one and much noise and confusion are present.

So far as I know Jersey City is the first community to adopt this system of amplification in fighting fires, but there are so many obvious advantages in connection with its use that I am confident that the time is not far distant when it will be generally adopted by fire-fighting organizations.

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