Best Method of Fighting Fires in Coal Docks.*
In the early part of December, 1891, I received a circular from Secretary Hills, stating that a committee of chiefs would meet in Cleveland to select and assign topics for reading and discussion in the coming convention of the National Association and asking that I suggest a topic. About the time of receiving Brother Hill’s circular I had an engine and detail of men assisting Chief McGill of Superior City at a fire in the coal piles of the Lehigh Coal Company, and just a short time before had finished working at two fires, one on the Pioneer Coal Company’s dock and one on the Northwestern Coal Company’s dock No. 2. These fires had lasted fourteen days betore they were completely extinguished, emailing as a matter of course a great deal of tedious, disagreeable work on the men and a severe strain cn the engines and hose, and I thought that if the committee would take the subject of coal fires in hand, they would most likely assign the topic to one of the chiefs from the coal regions. I was therefore very much surprised to receive a letter in the early part of February from the secretary, stating that the topic had been assigned to myself. Obedience to proper authority is a fireman’s first duty, so I comply with the ordeis given by the committee, with the qualification that 1 do not present anything in this claiming to be the best method of handling conflagrations of this kind. I will simply state methods used by me, and give you a description of the location of the docks and the amount of coal handled annually at Duluth and Superior.
Paner read before the Louisville convention of the National As: oCiatioa of fire Chief* by Chief T. E. Smith, Duluth, fa.
At the head of Lake Superior there is a narrow strip of land extending from the city of Duluth across the lake for seven miles, forming a natural breakwater. About a mile above this point there is another point jutting out into the bay formed by the St. Louis river. Around the north end and west side of this bay of Duluth are located the coal docks, beginning with Northwestern Fuel Company, who have two system of docks on the Minnesota side. One dock is approachable with teams, the other is not. The dock stands out some distance from the mainland, with railroad tracks laid on piling leading to it. The Pioneer Coal Company is on the mainland. The Ohio Coal Company’s dock is out from the shore on pile dock like Northwestern No. 2. On the Superior side the situation is somewhat similar.
There is handled annually by these companies a total of one million seven hundred and fifty thousand tons of coal, and they are increasing their dock room and carrying facilities each year.
A great quantity of this coal is bituminous, and it is on the low grade, soft coal that the annual coal dock fires originate spontaneously, and usually about the centre of the pile and next to the ground or dock. The great sire of the pile prevents the water thrown on from reaching the fire with any volume and the heat evaporates the water. At the Pioneer Coal dock fire I had seven engines at work with a capacity of 8000 gallons per minute working continuously (or three days, and, if the coal company had not moved a large quantity, so that the heart of the fire could be reached, we might have been there much longer.
AN OPTICAL DELUSION.
The Northwestern and Lehigh were repetitions of the Pioneer. The powerful heat on the inside and the cold water on the outside combined to form the coal over the fire into an almost impervious coat.
The plan I adopted was to get to the heart of the fire as fast as possible, to confine it to as small an area as I could, and to get all the water on it I could and flood the fire out. It is a class of merchandise that water does not damage materially, and 1 know of no better method. If the chiefs assembled here know of any better plan, I shall be glad to use it. During the lime I was working on the coal fires, the ubiquitous, self-winding crank was on deck with his little scientific scheme to extinguish the fire. One had a caveat on drive well points to be inserted into the burning coal, attach the hose on and drown out the fire. Another wanted to extinguish two acres of burning coal, fifty feet high with a double eighty gallon chemical. He said he had a diploma on natural philosophy and knew his business. Another wanted to get salt spread over the pile and throw water on, make a pickle to preserve it; but having plenty of water and steam power. I confined myself to water. I believe the professor impressed the Lehigh Coal Company people with his plan of using chemicals, so that they requested Chief McGill to try a chemical engine, but when the chief found out he was using some twenty or thirty dynamite cartridges in connection with the chemical engine, he drove the professor off the dock, and we have continued to use water up to date.