Excerpts from Fire Engineering

Civil unrest as it manifested itself during this decade had far-reaching consequences for the fire service, as it did for society in general. It struck blows at the “hearts” of firefighters, who now found themselves being looked upon “as the enemy of the people” in riot-torn areas. It also forced changes in policies and firefighting procedures in many departments. Excerpts from Editor James M. Casey`s editorial “The Crisis in our Cities” below highlight the mood and reactions of firefighters, who were reeling under the developments of this era.

“Within the last couple of years, fire fighters in our cities have learned to their shock and dismay that they are no longer the good guys. This awakening has been punctuated by bullets, bottles and other objects that include Molotov cocktails.

“Understandably the fire fighters are deeply hurt. In the past they had been regarded as the champions of the poor, ever ready to risk life and limb for the lowest of our citizens (which they still do). Of all civil servants they were the least likely to be objects of any civilian indignation ….

“What to do about it? The chief and his fire fighters can sit back sullenly, lick their wounds and only devise new methods to combat fires while under attack from unruly mobs. Or they can do something positive to eliminate the motivation of the mob.

“…. someone once pointed out that to move a mountain, one begins by picking up the first stone. No matter how small this stone is, it contributes to the ultimate removal of the mountain.

“The New York Fire Department picked up the first stone when it sponsored a Cartoon Mobile, a [unit that achieved instant animation.” Mike the Faithful Fire Fighter carried on two-way conversations with the audience to put across in a humorous way messages about the dangers to themselves that could result from false alarms and hostile acts against members of the fire department.

“The Life We Save May Be Yours” was the theme of the 20-minute program, which was presented in ghetto areas ….” (Jan. 1968)]

“The Chicago Fire Department picked up another stone when, with the cooperation and financial assistance of local businessmen, it constructed a pool and playground. The installation was built adjacent to a fire station whose members supervise the activities of youngsters who use it.

“Both these activities, however, are aimed at improving community relations, which is only one of the short-range goals for combating the crisis in our cities. In the long run this crisis will be solved by elevating the disadvantaged to middle class status. This, of course, can be done only by im-proving their income and job status ….

“The Detroit Fire Department … has employed 60 young persons, both male and female, in various assignments in and around fire department installations. And at present the city is formulating plans for a fire fighter cadet program. This program, in conjunction with an intensive publicity and recruiting program, is aimed at enlisting men in the 1712- to 20-year age group to serve in the department with pay. They will perform various duties in the department and receive regular fire academy training. They will form a trained cadre for entrance into the department when they reach the minimum age.

“Dayton, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Seattle, among others, are all working toward or on plans similar to Detroit`s. They have set out to move the mountain of crisis in our cities by starting with a small stone. It would be well if we all did the same.” (Feb. 1968)

IAFF Surveys Riots In 11 Cities

“The International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO, has charged that `not a single person has been arrested and convicted because he interfered with, harassed or attacked a fire fighter` during riots in 11 cities studied, despite reported deaths of four fire fighters and injuries to 418 as the result of riotous attack.”

Estimated property loss from fire in eight riot-torn cities amounted to $206,978,000, according to the report. “The union cited these statistics in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee to urge strong legislation to make all such attacks and interference a federal offense ….” The IAFF noted the attitude of many people “began to change from one of friendship and respect to one of hostility ….”

Deaths and injuries to firefighters during riots or civil disturbances for the 11 cities covered in the IAFF report were as follows: Detroit (MI): two dead, 82 injured; Cleveland (OH): 13 injured; Cincinnati (OH): 12 injured; Los Angeles–Watts (CA), one dead, 183 injured; Newark (NJ): one dead, 35 injured; Milwaukee (WI): 15 injured; Buffalo (NY): 16 injured; Hartford (CT): 6 injured; Rochester (NY): 25 injured; New York (NY): 24 injured; and Grand Rapids (MI): 6 injured. The report showed that the Los Angeles County Fire Department had recorded 692 incidents of harassment and attacks since the Watts riot of 1965. (Nov. 1967)

“Firemen Tackle Multiple Incendiary Fires”

“Rarely in the history of the nation`s fire service has any fire department faced the situation that confronted the Los Angeles Fire Department during the civil riots in August, when hundreds of incendiary fires caused damage estimated by the LAFD at between 40 and 50 million dollars.”

The riot area, was approximately 50 square miles (city and county) …. Molotov cocktails–bottles filled with gasoline–were the primary means of ignition. The deputy fire chief, in tactical command during most of the rioting, said, “There were 50 fires burning at one time, each of which could be considered of second alarm proportions or better ….

“Incendiarists directed a heavy barrage of paving blocks and bottles if a building was still savable to force them [firefighters] away so it would be a total loss. If the building on fire was obviously a total loss, they would leave fire fighters to battle the flames …. A fire would be extinguished in one occupancy while another was being set down the street. Extraordinary systems of dispatching, response and attack became necessary.” (Paul Ditzel, Jan. 1966) n

“Fire Department Operations Under Riot Conditions”

“P lanning fire fighting operations in riot areas is becoming an administrative necessity for an increasing number of fire departments …. Fire chiefs had to learn quickly that defenses had to be devised against attacks on their men on the fireground …. So task force and command post have become part of the language of fire fighters. Different types of response to alarms, radical changes in fire fighting methods, means of safeguarding apparatus and emergency communications procedures had to be planned for use under riot conditions …. “

Among these changes reported by fire departments affected by these conditions in a Fire Engineering survey were the following:

Command posts, selected in advance of any outbreak and designated in a department`s operational plan, were at fire headquarters or at the fire alarm bureau if it was not located at headquarters. Schools offered several advantages as command posts–they were usually fenced, they provided some protection for parked task force vehicles, their gymnasiums could accommodate a large number of cots and eliminate the necessity for fire fighters to sleep in the open, and their cafeterias had sufficient facilities for feeding a large number of firefighters.

Task forces composed of two or three companies and a chief officer offered more security when responding. “A mob would be less likely to attack 18 firemen than five or six men in an isolated engine company.”

Since apparatus could encounter attacks even while leaving quarters, fire station doors were opened only long enough for apparatus to leave.

Departments had to be prepared to vacate fire stations in riot areas. “Four firehouses in one city were attacked by snipers.” Usually the apparatus from vacated houses reported to command posts. In one city, firefighters were instructed to keep to the back of their quarters and to have as little light as possible showing at night.

Most departments banned the use of sirens and flashing lights while apparatus was responding to alarms in riot areas. “Apparatus traveled as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.”

White coats, helmets, and shields were quickly abandoned, since they make excellent targets. At least one department used black spray paint to black out reflective striping on coats.

Full turnout gear, including gloves and eye protection, was man-datory for everyone, including chiefs and drivers. Officers and men had to be trained in firefighting tactics planned for riot areas and become familiar with local and state laws that affected the duties and responsibilities of the fire department while operating in a riot area. (“Fire Department Operations Under Riot Conditions,” May 1968)


Sixteen persons died in a flash fire that occurred on the ninth floor of a Hartford (CT) Hospital on December 8. Trash that collected in a disposal chute, as a result of a stoppage, ignited. Fiber acoustical ceiling tiles were believed to have contributed to the disaster. According to Chief Thomas Lee, “The fire in the ninth floor hallway resembled a huge bonfire. The combustible fiber ceiling tile had fallen into a heap in the corridor and involved the linoleum floor covering. There was some fire on the side walls and sparks were falling from the wallboard above the tiles.”

Smoke was seen coming from the chute on various floors, leading various housekeeping and custodial staff members to attempt to extinguish it with a hose at several floors at different times. Ultimately, a head nurse pulled the box station.

Ladders could not reach the fire floor because the building was set back and had construction in front of it. However, a firefighter stationed at the tip of the ladder instructed people trapped in their rooms to keep the doors closed and use wet sheets and blankets to seal them off. (“Fierce Hartford, Conn., Hospital Fire Kills Sixteen Persons,” Donald M. O`Brien, Feb. 1962) The wisdom of keeping room doors closed wherever people are sleeping or confined for any reason was demonstrated in this fire. “In every instance where a room door was open when the fire burst into the corridor, the heat seared everything it touched, and the deadly gases of combustion asphyxiated the helpless victims. On the contrary, many closed doors were deeply charred by the fierce blaze, but the occupants of the room survived.” (Editorial, Donald M. O`Brien, Feb. 1962)


The latter part of the `60s saw fire service principals looking ahead and projecting what would be taking place in the `70s, a decade they saw as “decisive” for the fire service.

“We have felt for a long time that the fire service has been standing still or at least plodding along on the same plateau–moving forward but not changing gears in an attempt to reach a higher plateau,” stated Fire Engineering Editor Casey in an editorial, in which the following observations and ideas were expressed.

“…. But tradition has two facets. On one side it builds morale, welds the team. On the other, it resents change–any change that departs from the past ….

“Tradition also rears its head when a new fireman walks into the station. He is “boot” and “Johnny-come-lately” for a long time before he arrives. And he himself will acquire the same superior attitude when the next boot arrives.

“But the boot who will arrive in the 1970s will be unlike any other boot of the past. This foreman of the new breed will be a fat cat who has been well clothed, well fed and well housed all his life. He will also have been better educated than his predecessors. He will not have worked too much with his hands. In fact, we might have a very hard time convincing him to enter the fire service.

“We are not here speaking exclusively of the paid fireman. Many volunteer departments are having difficulty recruiting. The situation has already become critical and will become more so.” (James F. Casey, editorial, Sept. 1967)

Following are some of the predictions/ comments made by several of the 12 participants–leaders in various segments of the fire service–in the Symposium of Fire Chiefs and Educators held at the Sheraton at O`Hare in Chicago in February 1967.

The 1970s will be years of “explosive expansion” in the fields of technology and government. “Is the fire service preparing to take advantage of the widening wonders of technology and to shape its future as a government service to the people? What will the manpower problems be and how will they be met? What will be done to adapt to social and technological changes? What advantages will the fire service gain from advances in communications equipment and methods?” These questions must be answered by the fire service in the `70s “because those years promise to be decisive ones for the future of the fire service.”

“…. Are we going to have any firemen, or are we going to have intelligent people who are not going to be on the fire line? Will they display less loyalty than the present fireman toward his superiors?” (Keith E. Klinger of the Los Angeles County Fire Department)

College degrees in fire administration, fire science, fire protection engineering–and even education–will be necessary to become chief officers and fire marshals. [Lester R. Schick, chief of the Davenport (IA) Fire Department and president of the IAFC]

Diesel engines and automatic transmissions will become more popular. (William E. Clark, supervisor of fire service training in Wisconsin)

“The same amount of work will have to be done with fewer persons, which will require greater selectivity in recruiting …. If we think we are in bad shape manpower-wise today, I think we are going to get a lot worse.” (Keith Royer, supervisor, Fire Service Extension, Iowa State University)

“Labor relations promises to play a wider role in the fire service of the `70s, and it is evident that this subject will be of increasing concern to the fire chief …. In the `70s, top priority must be given to thoroughly indoctrinating fire chiefs in labor relations fundamentals to improve their position at the bargaining table …. you see, when labor knocks at your door, it is too late because it takes time to learn these negotiation skills.” (Professor Donald F. Favreau, executive director of the International Fire Administration Institute of the State University of New York at Albany)

The fire service will have to compete for “a man`s time. When a department does get another volunteer, it gets him until he goes to college, until he gets married, until he gets drafted, or until something else ….” (Chief David B. Gratz of Silver Spring, Maryland)

“Computers and television will play important roles in training the fire fighter of the `70s …. Greater emphasis will be placed upon the increased use of instructional systems. More attention will be given to programmed instruction, computer-assisted instruction and audio-visual information retrieval systems.” (Henry D. Smith, chief, Firemen`s Training, Texas A&M University)

“The next decade is expected to see great advances in apparatus and equipment. The single fact that we expect our technical information alone to be doubled within the next 8 to 10 years means there must be correspondingly greater strides in designs and new concepts for fire protection apparatus and equipment ….” Among the foreseen advances were “multiple-purpose, single-unit chemical trucks using chemicals with 1,000 times the fire extinguishing power per pound of chemicals used today”; “rocket-powered back packs [that] will allow firemen to take hose to heights and effect quicker rescues”; “air-cushioned apparatus” that could “travel over all types of difficult terrain, including marshes”; remote-controlled equipment that “will make it possible for one man to operate the pumps of several engines”; automatic and remote-controlled monitor units such as deluge sets, deck guns, and ladder pipes; the widespread use of videotape recorder cameras at fires and on the training ground; lighter and chemical- and heat-resistant fire hose; quick-connect couplings for hose and hydrants; and “the extensive use of 1,000- to 1,500-gpm pumpers, which will lay 4- to 6-in. hose lines.” (Smith)

The fire chief of the future will have to give more thought to ambulances. “Traditionally, ambulance service has been supplied by the local undertakers, but the local undertakers now want out–it`s no longer profitable. Somebody will have to step into the vacuum they are creating, and hopefully it will be the fire departments, where the ambulance service logically belongs. If we don`t do it, the cops will, which will be another step on the road to disparity!” (James F. Casey, editor, Fire Engineering)

“Economics is key to the future of the fire service. Economic problems are becoming worse every year, and the next 10 years will be the answer to whether the fire service will survive ….” (Klinger) (“The 1970s–The Challenging Years For The Fire Service,” Sept. 1967)

Gasoline Filling Station Explosion Kills Three Philadelphia Firemen

“Explosion of a gasoline filling station in Philadelphia, Pa., on April 15, resulted in the death of three firemen and injuries to 23 others. Three civilians were also injured in the blast …. Three firefighters, ages 50, 36, and 27, were killed in the explosion.” The fire department officially concluded that gasoline and its vapors escaped from the leaks in an underground tank in the basement, which had just been filled with 1,000 gallons of gasoline, and were ignited by the pilot light of the hot water heater, triggering the series of explosions. (June 1961) n

San Francisco Develops

Operating Procedure

For Quick Attack

An operating procedure de-veloped by the San Francisco Fire Department for use during civil disturbances was centered around a preconnected pumper deluge set with a 78-inch tip fed from the booster tank.

During a civil disorder, the stacked tips on the deluge sets carried atop pumpers were replaced with a Gorter barrel with a 78-inch tip, and one 15-foot length of 234-inch hose was connected to a pump outlet and coupled to the deluge set. This was done in quarters at the discretion of the company officer or on orders from a higher authority.

At the fire scene, the first-due engine company operated the deluge set with a pump pressure of 50 psi. With a 400-gallon booster tank, the 78-inch tip could be used for two minutes. There was enough water left for up to 212 minutes of mop-up with a booster line. If the fire required more water, a second engine could run a supplyline to the first pumper and supply it with an additional 400 gallons of water. This type of operation made it possible to avoid leaving a firefighter alone at a hydrant and to pick up hose quickly so the crews could leave the scene, hopefully, before becoming involved in the civil disorder. Succeeding companies would supply the first-in engine if the fire was too big for this evolution, and standard firefighting operations were used. (June 1969)

New York`s Super Pumper System

“The Super Pumper System, recently accepted by the New York Fire Department, is the world`s most powerful land-based fire fighting unit.” The $875,000 system consisted of five pieces of apparatus–including the Super Pumper, Super Hose Tender, and three Satellite Tenders–and was capable of delivering 8,800 gallons of water per minute at a pressure of 350 psig at the pump discharge when in a parallel arrangement or 4,400 gpm at 700 psig when in series operation. The pressure was “nearly five times greater than that of the regular pumpers and delivers four times as much volume. Thus, the water horsepower is equivalent to that of 20 regular pumpers.” The Super Pumper could be “as far as 10 city blocks from the fire and draw its water from a primary source such as a harbor, lake, or river, or from four or eight hydrants, depending on whether high volume or high pressure is needed ….” (Oct. 1965)

Tragic Fire Ravages Aircraft Carrier Constellation

“Flames raged through the nearly completed aircraft carrier Constellation in the New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on December 19, killing 50 civilian workmen, injuring more than five times that number, causing $48-million damage, and setting back completion of the vessel about seven months …. The Constellation was destined to join the Pacific fleet by mid-1961 ….” Some 3,300 men had made their way off the carrier.

The ship–built of steel–had nine levels above the hangar deck and seven levels below it and contained more than 1,200 compartments. Considerable wood scaffold planks were on the steel framing, and other combustible materials were in the ship.

The fire started around 10:20 a.m., when a dumpster truck pushing a heavy trash bin “accidentally struck a steel plate, bending it upward until it knocked out the main plug of a 500-gallon tank containing about 400 gallons of JP-5 fuel used to operate emergency generators and other equipment. The tank was not protected by any dike or cofferdam.” Reportedly, the escaping oil flowed down the bomb elevator well, “where the welder`s torch or hot metal ignited the oil, which flashed back to the tank and continued to burn as it gushed forth. The fire spread rapidly, feeding on the wooden planking, other combustible work equipment and insulating material ….” (Feb. 1961)

Electronic Writer Dispatches Firemen

“In compliance with the provisions of Pamphlet 73 of the National Fire Protection Association which now stipulates two methods of re-transmitting alarms to outlying stations, one audible and one visual, the Ontario, California, Fire Department recently augmented the traditional telephone alarm system with graphic wire communications.

“Now, we graphically dispatch fire alarms to six fire companies from the headquarters fire alarm control room by using Victor Electrowriter electronic writing machines. It enables a dispatcher to send alarm instructions as he would on a scratch pad, and send them simultaneously to any or all substation companies.

“Electronic writing is not new; it has been used successfully by fire departments with two or three outlying stations since 1961. We feel our alarm dispatch system has several important modifications that make it the most effective system available today ….” (Chief Richard L. Custer, Fire Department, Ontario, California, Apr. 1966)

Growth Of The Self-Contained Mask

“One concept of breathing apparatus of the future … features complete body protection, from head to foot, with total sealing against any leak.” (Paul Pribble, Aug. 1966)

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