Their Evolution, Necessity and Advantages.

In a paper read at the International Fire Prevention congress recently held in London, England, G. H. Oatway, of Glasgow, Scotland, insisted upon the necessity for automatic fire alarms, with direct communication to the headquarters of fire departments. Taking for his theme the $65,000,000 annual fire-waste in the United Kingdom, he argued for the general installation of such automatic systems, and assumed as an axiom, that, “other things being equal, the measure of loss will invariably depend upon the hold the fire has obtained before its existence is discovered, and that anything which expedites the alarm is a direct advantage.” Hence, “the difference between the damage resulting from a fire signaled in its early stage and the same fire reported when it has spread to two or three floors is often the difference between a nominal loss and a burnout.” For which reason, “the reformer who aims at reducing fire-waste must turn his attention, primarily, to hastening the alarm. The true crux of the matter is, not what quantity of gear it takes to deal with huge conflagrations, but how to concentrate at the earliest stage upon the outbreaks as they oc^ur, and to check them before they have grown beyond control.” The figures of fire-waste everywhere show that, if immediate notice is given of a fire, and it is attacked in its earliest stage, the loss both by fire and water is very considerably less than it will be at any subsequent period, even if only a few minutes later. Looking at this very obvious feature it was a matter of astonishment to the writer, who is a “colonial,” on coming to the British Isles three years ago, to find, not only that there were no automatic alarms installed as a defence against fires not detected in their incipiency— consequently against fire-waste—and, therefore, not signaled to the fire departments, but actually no street alarms in operations. Mr. Oatway then spoke of the evolution of the fire alarm system in England from the year 1763, when John Greene patented the first automatic detecting device—an arrangement of cords, weights, and pulleys, and their aim— namely, the operation of an indicating arm when the cord burned and allowed a balance weight to fall. No provision was made for any audible alarm, and it remained for someone to notice the altered position of the semaphore before any advantage could be taken of it. In 1787 followed an audible alarm, the “philosophical fire alarm” of William Stedman, whose apparatus consisted of a pivoted bulb having an open neck, and containing mercury, spirit, or other aquiform fluid. As the heat of the room increased, the expansion of the fluid caused it to spill over, release a trigger, and allow a mechanical gong to run down. This arrangement was right in theory, but impractical in management, owing to the possibilities of the fluid evaporating, the mercury oxidising, or the crank being too stiff to work. The year 1866 saw the birth of the sprinkler system—a reticulation of mains controled by a lever kept in a closed position by suitable cords, which, when burned through, or severed, or sufficiently weakened in any way, caused a deluge of water. In 1809 William Congreve patented a combination string (still the same old string) and solder alarm to act in conjunction with a sprinkler or water main system. The water lever fell when the cord in any room let go from whatever cause; the water flowed; and the weight down showed where the fire was. Of course today such a contrivance would be laughed at, as neither string nor soft solder under tension are reliable for any length of time, and, with a fixed call or actuating point of no degrees, the result was bound to be disastrous. Many more such devices were patented; most were possessed of some merit; few, however ingenious in their details, had any promise of permanency. The majority of them aimed at local alarm only—that is to say. they rang a bell, lowered a semaphore, or did something at a given temperature. All the devices could be broadly classed under two heads—automatic alarms and automatic sprinklers. The latter, however good their record after 100 years of evolution, “have serious limitations,” and, however, helpful, cannot supersede the automatic alarm, whose actuating principle is the increase of temperature due to the fire—a “certain quantity”— and one which, “if properly applied, can be absolutely relied upon.” By not being properly applied they are mischievous, and in Mr. Oatway’s eyes the most mischievous is the “circuit-closing thermometer.” whose drawback is the “smallness of its heat-collecting surface, its isolation, and, last and worst of all. its fixity of operating point.” This objection applies to all non-compensated automatic detecting appliances. “In thermometers, or fuse-alarm practice, it is usual to place the detectors at intervals of about ten feet, so that a room of any size will contain a number. If a fire breaks out, the room rapidly warms up. The ceiling is blanketed with heat, and every detector feels its influence. Each is affected, but none can give the alarm until some one of the number absolutely reaches the set point or melts out. Having no means of varying the fusing point of the solder, or of shifting the wire in the thermometer tube, an actuating point must be selected, which is high enough to give a good working margin over the maximum industrial or seasonal temperature of the year, and thus it comes about that, if the fire breaks out in winter or when the room is at its lowest temperature, the amount of loss is considerably and quite unnecessarily increased. In a device set to fuse at 150° Fahr., it will be clear to everyone that the measure of the damage will depend upon the normal temperature of the room at the time of the outbreak. If the mercury is in the nineties, there is only some sixty-degree of a rise to wait for; whilst, if it happens to be a winter night, the alarm is held back for a rise of perhaps 120 degrees; what chance is there of a good stop? * * * In a climate which does not maintain a uniform temperature a dead level alarm is unfair to one period of the year or the other. It is too high for some months or too low for others, and I think it is beyond question that the false alarms or unsignaled fires which have earned for the earlier automatic detectors their unenviable reputation and led to their exclusion or removal from brigade stations is due to this cause.” A perfect automatic fire alarm system should perform the following functions: (a) Detect the fire at a uniformly early period under all atmospheric or industrial conditions; (b) give the alarm upon the premises, and simultaneously to the brigade by a definite and unmistakable message; and (c) facilitate the work of extinction by indicating the exact position of the outbreak in the building attacked. For the first of these functions Mr. Oatway employed a detector, which by its own expansion or contraction automatically maintains the uniformity of the rise necessary to produce the alarm under any and every working condition. The detector consists of a steel rod of rather unusual form and cross-section, to which a copper wire seven feet in length is attached: and at the centre of the combination a contact tube holding the carbon bridging piece is placed. The latter is suspended by a silver chain to the detecting wire, and is held at a distance above two platinum terminals attached to the steel rod. The distance between the two is determined by the margin of rise for the alarm. This in practice is usually twenty-five degrees Fahr. The detecting wire is yoked to the compensator, in order that the expansion of the one may equal the expansion of the other, so long as the heat rise is the comparatively gradual one due to gas light, the radiators, or other normal causes. The degree of elongation differs slightly in extent, it is not a mathematical fixture, but the approximation is so close that the pair works well, and affords an “absolute immunity from false alarm and ability to respond to a satisfactory heal test at any time.” The expansion and contraction of the two are equal in the matter of lengthening or shortening. but the difference is in speed. If a fire breaks out, the copper wire is off long before the compensator can overtake it, and the work is done. If the rise is simply gradual and “due to natural causes, the ends of the pair will poke out a little, just as they will crawl back again when the temperature diminishes, but in the centre, where the contact is made, is equilibrium, and the twenty-five-degree expansion necessary to insure contact is automatically maintained and never interfered with. It is only when the one moves before the other can be actuated that the gap between the contacts is closed and the signal dispached.” This signal is by bells or gongs and rightly performs the second function of an automatic fire alarm system, thereby reducing the chances of disaster from loss of life in large or small establishments. Mr. Oatway quoted the instance of one large warehouse where 600 of these “nerve centres” are “all yoked up to four positionindicators, three of which repeat upon the master indicator; and this, in turn, controls and actuates the local alarms and telegraphs the central fire station.” The method of calling them is simple. There is an automatic transmitter, and the code cipher it is intended to send is cut upon the periphery of a disk So long as the unindented edge of the disk is between the printing key and the printing point, there is no message; but, so soon as this armature is pulled down by the current switched on by the automatic detector described, then away goes the disk; a legibly engraved shutter is dropped in the central fire station, and the code cipher is repeated four times, instantly calling out the brigade. The shutter and Morse code were used in combination at the request of the Professional Fire Brigades association, so as to avoid the possibility of any misreading of the telegraphic signal. The shutter by itself is less dependable, because “an outside contact upon the line would bring it down, but no other cause than a consistently closed circuit in the building can give the four times repeated telegraphic signal of fire.” This device also performs the third function of an automatic fire alarm—namely, by indicating the exact seat of the fire and thereby facilitating its extinction by concentration of the firemen’s efforts on the actual danger spot, while at the same time the amount of damage by fire and water is limited. The details employed are simple. There are as many rows of shutters as there are floors in the building, and as many shutters as there are rooms. As each room is affected, its indicator is actuated, and thus the whole area of the fire, with the direction it is taking, if spreading, can be seen at a glance. By means of such automatic fire alarms, therefore, “shortness of gear and shortness of water can best be counterbalanced by hastening the period of attack, and this necessitates the hastening of the alarm.” They also counterbalance that too great tendency on the part of untrained employes to trifle with fires, since many buildings are lost every year through the misplaced confidence of inmates in their ability to deal with the outbreak. At the same time “there is nothing in any automatic system to discourage individual effort; inmates can put the fire out, if they can, but, in any case, the fire department gets timely and definite notice,” and if on arrival it finds the fire extinguished, so much the better. This is the common sense view of it. Helpers work none the less intelligently because they know the brigade is coming; and it is necessary to provide some automatic method of calling them, because no one can ever rely upon any body who is unfamiliar with fire doing the right thing at the time.




ARE not the insurance companies and propertyowners of this city and those of others in the United States mistaken in their valuation of the so-called “automatic” electrical fire alarm systems at present applied, as fire detectors? Is it not fancied security only when trusting to such antiquated and unreliable apparatus, easily deranged as they are by accident or incendiary? Are there hidden reasons why they are fostered, and why no reward is offered as an incentive to stimulate and encourage the inventive genius of our country that more efficient and trustworthy ones may be produced? Do insurance companies and propertyowners realize that destruction by fire of ftoo,000,000 worth of property per annum is a dead loss to the country, aside from being an irredeemable one to themselves? Are their eyes closed to the fact that precious lives are yearly sacrificed to the dread fire fiend, which is more or less due to the reliance and blind faith put in the various contrivances recommended by themselves ? Does it not powerfully appeal to their own sense of self-preservation that, if “their own losses by fire in the New York fire patrol district are $5,000,000 for seven months during the last year,” which is an excess of nearly half of the previous one, something more reliable is required as a fire detector? Is not the Board of Fire Underwriters, with their co-operators, the fire commissioners, and the numerous attaches of the fire department, the product of the insurance companies through legislative enactment, and are they not in some respects servants of the people? If we may judge at all, we must conclude that an answer to the last query should be—they are ; and taken as one body are potentates. They recommend and hold, in their might, the power to adopt such devices and means of protection as is best calculated to prevent fires. The various contrivances for such uses are brought under the lens of their examination, and must stand or fall in accordance with their will. None have the right to dispute or question the exercise of their judgment, and the citizen’s life and his property are largely dependent on them for preservation. The extraordinary advances made in electrical knowledge and construction of apparatus in the field of electricity, during the last fifteen years, causes one who is in any way versed in the art to look back on old devices, considered perfect only a few months ago, and view them as decrepit fossils of a bygone age ; that any such should have place or live at all but in one’s memory, seems ridiculous ; and to longer tolerate them indicates that lunacy or worse reasons must keep them in existence. Let us not mince matters. It is always best, and a mark of honesty, to call things by their proper names, and credit them for just what they are, even should they be clothed in fine linen or be venerable in gray hairs.

It is beyond contradiction to assert that $74,000,000 of the most valuable property in the city of New York (saying nothing of the possible loss of life) “in case of fire,” is left entirely to chance for its safety through a misplaced confidence in the reliability of the present automatic electrical fire alarm systems. This delusive reliance is so great, that other old and tried safety measures have been almost 01 entirely removed, or at least notably relaxed, where these systems are introduced.

Now, for the first time, let us bring to the light one as a sample of these so-styled automatic fire protectors, and let us look at its dimensions. Let us cast on it the ever-penetrating rays of the lamp of truth, weigh it in the balance of rigid scrutiny, and ascertain by what right or license they are styled automatic, and if found wanting, deprive them of the insignias they disgrace, strip them to the bare buff, and drum them all out of camp. We should place good and efficient guards over the lives and propeity of our citizens ; we should know them to be diligent, always at their posts, wide awake and ever ready to transmit the password of threatened danger to the officer in command at headquarters. In fact, be in every sense reliable.

The automatic electrical fire alarm systems, as at present applied, con sist of a main line circuit embracing a central station ; each building is equipped with “thermostats” placed near the ceilings, and a signal box substantially like those employed by our messenger service ; the thermostats and signal box are connected by wires to the main line wire circuit. Another wire is also employed, and is connected with the earth. At the central station are electrical instruments, employed for the purpose of receiving the signal when turned in from the building. If everything is new and in order, notice of fire is sent to the central station over the working circuit by reason of the box instrument having been set in motion through the releasing of its revolving mechanism ; the movement of the box having been held in check by a magnet during the normal condition of the apparatus, which acts when the working circuit is closed by a “thermostat” through an abnormal rise of temperature, and thus the building in danger is thereby indicated. The points of contact of the “thermostats” are normally open, but when closed from any cause, the wire connecting the thermostat and box make contact with the earth wire, and consequently an alarm is transmitted to the central station. Deeming it to be unnecessary to give in detail the mechanism of the various apparatus, I conclude the foregoing description sufficient, though brief, to those of ordinary electiical knowledge to understand.

As they appear under the lens of fearless examination. The building being now ” protected” is left to itself to work out its own salvation, for it is seldom looked to after that, as the expense attending that part of the business would not warrant such a waste of time. If any part of the apparatus becomes disordered, thereby destroying its vitality, that signifies but little, for “where ignorance is bliss ’twere folly to be wise.”

Buildings have been known to stand for ages, until dilapidation and decay required their demolition, and never was a sign of fire in them, except for ordinary purposes ; in such the present applied systems could be introduced consistently, and they would do no harm.

Should the wires in the building become broken, or be in contact with the main line in a manner to cut out the “ thermostats ” or box, or their connections corroded by time through dampness or other causes, thereby rendering them useless, or the thermostats become clogged by dust, dirt or rust, or the ground wire severed, or should they be subjected to any one of the thousand and one other faults to which they are liable ; not one announcement, or a sign of one, is sent to the central station as notice of the trouble. They are dumb. Just here let us take special note of one very important matter, which alone should condemn them without judge or jury. If the earth wire, the very jugular of their existence, be severed—although all the other patts in the building remain intact—paralysis takes place immediately, and the temperature of the infernal regions, if applied, could not make it breathe one sound or sign of life. The following statement is taken from the records of one of the best equipped messenger service iines in the Metropolitan district of the fire underwriters of the city of New York : The yearly ‘ grounds ’—*. wires in communication with the ground— removed from their lines foot up 181 but as their signal boxes work in series over one main line, one accidental “ ground ” does not affect them.

This being only the number removed, it would be a matter of easy calculation to determine the total number of grounds, approximately, on the lines occuring during the year. Now, a lineman to find and remove them, would average a day’s time to eacn one; therefore, as 365 days constitute a year, and if this number of “grounds” intrude themselves on the main lines of the present applied automatic systems, as they are likely to do, it would be strictly within the bounds of truth to say, that all buildings “protected” by them are unguarded, and consequently at the mercy of possible fire threequarters of the time. This generous, though unreasonable, vacation accorded these “ automatics ” as a rest from their yearly duties would seem to be ample, but like all indolent, work-shirking and worthless servants, they demand more leisure, and take it when the building is being “ tested ” (I will grant that they are at intervals examined). Saying nothing of the annoyance to the occupants of the building being tested, consider the time consumed in this operation ; add this to the time already estimated when these “automatics” are on their “vacation,” and I ask, would it be out of the way to call it one-eighth more ? And further mark you! During the time this “testing” is going on in one building, a signal of fire could not be turned in to the central station from any one of the others any more than the allegorical camel of holy writ could walk through the eye of a needle. Again, after a building has been “ tested,” what guarantee have we that it is “ all right,” except the word of the “tester;” and furthermore, suppose that the apparatus becomes disordered shortly after the tester has finished his work—as may readily occur—what then ? I leave them to answer who can. Could the “ tester ” or any conscientious person affirm that the apparatus in a building, “ protected ” by the present applied “ automatics,” is in working condition one day after its introduction?

It is unnecessary to call for the testimony of an expert in corroboration of these statements. Why these systems, as at present applied, can support the high sounding title of “automatics” surpasses all human understanding, and I marvel at the impudence of those who so style them, but they are inspected as such by those in authority, a certificate given pronouncing them to be so, and that they are in order, and a rebate allowed when it is as evident as a meridian sun in the unclouded heavens, that the title as conferred is a glaring misnomer, a denial of which would be stretching the truth beyond computation.

J. II. GUEST, Electrician,

NEW YORK, September 15. 181 Dearl street.


HE eighth annual convention of the Massachusetts State Firemen’s Association was held at Taunton on the 7th, 8th and 9th inst. There were about 200 delegates and visitors present, among whom were :

L. P. Webber, Boston; G. C. Fiske, Ashland; C. H. Parks, Waltham; H. J. Green, Cottage City; Abner Coleman, Taunton; T. W. Hough, Malden; J. B. Peck, North Attleboro; J. R. Hopkins, Somerville ; Fred Macy, New Bedford ; H. L. Bixby, Newton ; W. C. Davol, Jr., Fall River; Henry H. Tilley, Newport, R. I.; W. H. Blodgett, Merrimac; George M. Crapo, New Bedford; T. W. Draper, North Attleboro; John F. Hinds, Webster; O. L. Swift, North Attleboro; F. H. Humphrey, West Newt n; Geo. S. Willis, Pittsfield ; Samuel Abbott, Jr., Boston; Wm. C. Wright, Framingham; Win. B. Foster, Lexington; C. T. Symmes, Winchester; Marihal Parks, Waltham ; B. S. Flanders, E. F. Martin and John R. Murphy, Boston; H. P. Macintosh, Newburyport; A. J. Holt, Bangor Ladder Company; W. Foster, Wocdhouse Manufacturing Company, New York; Alex. Boyd and A. S. Jackson, Boston ; C. W. Maxner, E. E. Fox and W. Warner, Somerville; C. Callahan, Boston; Chas. L. McCann, Brockton; G. W. Wales, Concord; G. G. Tidsbury, Ashland.

The convention opened on Wednesday afternoon in Armory Hall, with President Geo. S. Willis in the chair. The delegates were welcomed in an address delivered by Mayor Godfrey.

The papers read upon the appointed topics were highly instructive and were attentively listened to. They were: First—“The fire alarm, its advantages and benefits which was discussed by B. S. Flanders, superintendent of fire alarm, Boston; second—“ Forest fire wards, what ate their relations to fire departments.” by G. G. Tidsbury, Ashland ; third — “ Rubber covers, their advantage for protection ef property by fires,” Captain H. R. Williamson, Worcester Fire Insurance Patrol ; fourth—

“Telegraph wires—the disadvantage of telegraph wires on poles and buildings,” Chief Engineer W. C. Davol, Jr., Fall River ; sixth—“ Relief valves and shut-off nozzles, their objects and benefits,” written by A. P. Leshure, Springfield, and read by the secretary ; seventh—” To what extent should aid be rendered to an adjoining city or town without a fire department,” Chief Engineer H. L. Bixby, Newton.

Addresses were made by Captain E. F. Martin of Boston (“The fire losses of the country, how to prevent them ; and a general review of the fire service”) and by John R. Murphy, fire commissioner of Boston, exChief H. P. Macintosh of Newburyport, and Chief W. M. Snow of Middle, boro. Mr. Murphy advocated the application of civil service reform in the fire departments, and the putting of private telegraph wires under ground, while those of the fire alarm should be placed overhead.

On Thursday afternoon the Taunton Fire Department paraded for inspection and made an excellent showing. In fact, it would be difficult to find anything to criticise in the equipment and discipline of this service.

An exhibition of the water pressure for fire purposes was then given. The water-works are on the Holly plan, and the test, through six lines of hose, fully demonstrated that the city’s water resources for fire protection rank among the best in the State.

The trial of extension ladders, which followed, attracted much attention. The Bangor Company was represented by A. J. Holt, and the Somerville Company’ by’ Maxner, Fox and Warner.

Mr. Foster of the Woodhouse Manufacturing Company next gave an exhibition of the Empire life-saving net, which is controlled by the company. The net was held by some twenty men, and T. W. Draper of North Attleboro jumped into it from the gable of a house about fifty feet high, alighting without the slightest mishap.

In the evening there was a parade of the delegates from the central fire station to Armory Hall, where a banquet was given by the city authorities.

On Friday the convention assembled at 10 A. M., when the remaining business was disposed of and the following officers elected for the ensuing year : President, Chief Abner Coleman, Taunton ; secretary. Captain Edward F. Martin, Boston ; treasurer, ex-Chief C. M. Whipple, Westfield ; vice-presidents. Chief L. P. Webber, Boston ; II. L. Bixby, Nowton ; T. J. Hough, Malden ; G. C. Fiske, Ashland ; /.. T. Merrill, Lawrence; executive committee, W. II. Blodgett, Merrimac; George M. Crapo, New Bedford ; G. G. Tidsbury, Ashland ; O. L. Swift, North Attleboro ; F. H. Humphrey, Newton.

The next annual meeting will probably be held at Haverhill or Lawrence.

The following exhibits were shown in the hall : C. Callahan A’ Co., Boston, play-pipes, nozzles, couplings, hydrant gates and connections, and some lengths of Callahan’s fine “jacket” hose. An exhibition of the workings of a machine for attaching couplings to hose, given by this firm, proved of considerable interest. American Hose Manufacturing Company, Chelsea, Mass., couplings, hose, hydrant connections, pipes, hook and ladder straps and other supplies. American Steam Gauge Company, Boston, some Haley patent nozzles. The New York Suspender Buckle Fire Escape Company showed its fire escapes. The Eureka Fire Hose Company, represented by G. W. Wales, had a fine display of its various brands of hose. The Woodhouse Manufacturing Company made a good display of fire supplies, among which were the Empire life saving net, play-pipes, couplings, Siamese connections and a fire escape. The Bangor Ladder Company had the merits of its extension ladder explained by Mr. Holt, while Fox, Maxner & Co. also exhibited their extension ladder. The Gleason & Bailey Manufacturing Company, Seneca Falls, had some fine engravings, showing the diflercnt apparatus they make, placed in conspicuous places in the hall. Ihesc were closely inspected by the delegates. The Fire Extinguisher Company, Chicago, through J. Hinman, the Boston agent of the company, showed samples of fire extinguishers and a Detroit door opener, which forces open a door byspringing the bolt of the lock. These were all the exhibits shown, but there were some supplies from the Boston Woven Hose Company on hand unopened, and the Villeneuve hose dtyer and hoister arrived too late for placing on exhibition.

This convention was about the best yet held by the association, and its proceedings were marked by noteworthy earnestness of purpose on the part of the large and intelligent delegation present.

—About 1000 veteran firemen of Boston, Providence, Lowell, Chelsea, Wakefield, Charlestown and Roxbury took part in the parade of the Boston Veteran Firemen’s Association in that city on Monday. At the hand engine contest, which followed the parade. Gaspee Engine Company of Providence won the prize cf $50 offered by The Boston Globe for this event, by a corrected record of 193 feet 5 inches. For general excellence in appearance on parade, The Globe’s first prize of $100 was awarded the Charlestown men, and the second prize of $50 to the Barnicoats of Boston.