AUTOMATIC FIRE PROTECTION.
DEVICES are constantly being introduced for extinguishing fire by means of machinery working automatically. The most successful device of the kind in use is the automatic sprinkler, which is a series of perforated pipes adjusted to a building, a sprinkler head being attached at the perforations, the head being put together with a fusible metal; when a fire occurs, the fusible metal melts at a certain temperature, the water is released, and deluges the room or building. The objection to the general use of the sprinklers is that the water, being released when no one is present, is liable to do as much damage as the fire would have done if left to bum itself out. The automatic sprinkler has done good service in factories and mills, in rooms where machinery is operated, for machinery is not so susceptible to injury by water as a stock of goods would be, and hence the sprinkler system is relied upon to a very great extent by the New England mill mutuals for the protection of property insured by them. But sprinklers cannot be used with safety in the great warehouses of New York or other large cities, where immense values in destructible goods are stored, and hence they are scarcely to be found where the greatest values are concentrated. We have always contended that no automatic system of fire extinguishment was complete that did not provide for summoning human intelligence to control the machinery that might be set in operation. It might be well enough to have devices that would set water to running when a certain degree of heat was reached, but the device has not yet been invented that could decide when it was time to shut off the water, to stop the damage when its further application was no longer necessary. I here are one or two systems of automatic fire alarms, that are arranged to sound an alarm when the temperature of a room gets too high, but their use in this city results in sending a good many false alarms to the fire department. A system that is in use in Boston is said to overcome this difficulty, and to never send in false alarms. But the automatic fire alarm and the automatic extinguishing systems have never, to our knowledge, been successfully combined. There seems to be no good reason why they should not be, but probably it is not necessary where the sprinkler system is most used.
In THE JOURNAL of two weeks ago we gave an account of an exhibition that was given in this city of the Crikelair system of fire extinguishment. The exhibition was a success, but this may be said of many devices that are theoretically all right, but of very little practical use. The inventor of this system, Mr. Crikelair, is certainly a very ingenious man, and has accomplished some things in connection with his plan that are to be commended, whether his entire system can be or not. He depends upon certain chemicals for producing a gas or vapor at the critical moment that will subdue flames instantly. These chemicals he places about a room or building in convenient receptacles, connecting them with fuses, a portion of the fuse being also exposed. This will ignite at a certain temperature, extend to the chemical holders, release the chemicals, and the vapor is generated and the fire extinguished. Connected with the fuse is a gun that is fired to give an alarm, and the fuse can also be connected with a gong and with fireworks on the roof, to burn with a steady blaze for the purpose of giving the alarm and guiding people to the fire. The latter is a good idea, although brought down from ancient times, and might be used in connection with electricity quite as well as with a burning fuse. The great objection to this plan of extinguishment is that the gas or vapor generated is fatal to life; to breathe it any length of time is sure death. It is like the compound that was attempted to be introduced in this country a few years ago, that was confined in receptacles that were appropriately described as “ stink pots,” the use of some of which came near to killing some firemen over in Philadelphia. Still there is no good reason why, with proper safeguards and in proper places, the Crikelair system should not be employed. There are many factories and mills where it could be introduced, provided it could be detached in the daytime, which is provided for, we are told. The extinguishing vapor is not injurious to any goods or fabrics, exposure to the air soon removing all bad odors, so that the use of the plan would do no harm in warehouses. The vapor can be relied upon to put out oil fires in confined spaces, having been severely tested in that respect; indeed, it will always work best in spaces not open to the air. We should think that a free draft of air would destroy the power of the gas evolved. Mr. Crikelair has made many experiments in the manufacture of fuses, and those he uses generally differ from the ordinary fuse_in that the train conveying the ignition flame is confined in a casing, so that the fuse might carry the flame directly through a bale of cotton and never set fire to it or leave a spark in its passage. Other fuses are made to burn under water, or can be exposed to the weather any length of time without injury.
It has been a frequent matter of wonder that chemicals have not played a more important part in the matter of fire extinguishment; it is well known that there are various compounds that will put out fire readily, but no one seems to have attempted to use them on an extensive scale. The well-known fire extinguishers and chemical engines have done excellent service in this way, but still are regarded only as auxiliaries to the water-throwing machines. The work of Mr. Crikelair may be an important step towards the more extended use of chemicals in the work of controlling fires. He has already fitted up several places, and has orders for others, and his system is making friends whenever he exhibits it. He is conscientious in regard to placing it, refusing to put it into any building where many persons are employed unless ample provision is made for them to escape, and one of the most important functions of his alarm fuse is to give ample warning before there is any danger from the vapor. This is commendable on his part, but should unscrupulous persons get hold of his patents they might not be so particular as to placing it. Possibly we overestimate the danger to be apprehended from the use of a sulphurous vapor, but we have in mind several instances in this city where the firemen have been overcome by inhaling the fumes of burning chemicals. There is a drug store not far from our office that has a habit of burning out every year or two, and nearly always several firemen are made to suffer from the pungent odors of unknown chemical combinations.