Boiler Plant Leveled by Big Blaze
Fire Gets Good Start in Pattern Shop and Quickly Involves Wooden Roofs of Several Large Buildings
IT has been said that all large fires have many points in common. While this may or may not be so, it is certain that big fires otttimes show the same or similar errors in judgment on the part of the operating forces. But this is natural, for the human element is always an uncertain one. and the failure to use good judgment in the event of a fire of staggering proportions might well be expected.
The fire described in this article of the series on administration occurred in a large central west city on a cold March day a few years ago.
The city has a population of approximately 100,000.
The fire department consisted of eight engine companies. three truck companies, two chemical companies and one hose company.
Equipment of companies was as follows: Engine Cos. Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 6, 700 gallon triple combination machines; Engine Cos. Nos. 2 and 3, 730 gallon triple combination; Engine Co. No. 7, 1,000 gallon combination hose and pumper; Engine Co. No. 8, 500 gallon triple combination; Truck Cos. Nos. 1 and 3, City Service Trucks; Truck Co. No. 2, aerial truck; Chemical Cos. Nos. 1 and 2, combination hose and chemical car; Hose Co. No. 1, automobile hose car carrying 2,000 feet of hose.
Response to alarms as follows: First alarm, Engine Cos. Nos. 1, 2, 3 and Truck Co. No. 1.
Second alarm. Engine Cos. Nos. 4, 5, Chemical Co. No. 1 and Truck Co. No. 2.
Third alarm. Engine Cos. Nos. 7 and 8 and Truck Co. No. 3.
The other two companies, Chemical Co. No. 2 and Hose Co. No. 1 responded only on special call.
The water supply in the city in which this fire occurred may he classed as very good with the exception of the outlying sections which were supplied by six and four inch mains only. The plant involved in this fire happened to be located in one of the outlying districts, and the supply was therefore of a limited nature, as will be noted by the size of mains and hydrants marked on the diagram herewith.
The layout of the plant is shown in the diagram herewith.
The pattern shop was a two-story structure occupied on the ground door as a pattern shop and on the second floor as pattern storage. The building was of frame construction.
Stock room alongside pattern shop was of one-story construction brick, with wooden roof.
The boiler shop and other buildings were of the height and construction as noted in the diagram.
The car shop and blacksmithy was engaged in car repairing with forges and metaltrade furnaces installed therein. Oil fuel from 400 gallon pressure tanks which were located within this building. A considerable amount of wood working on heavy material was done.
The boiler shop was engaged in repairing locomotives, boilers, steam shovels and mining equipment. It included one iron forge, motor driven furnaces, oxygen torches, acetylene generator and other boiler shop equipment.
The office building, stock room, shop, and machine shop, in the group to the west of North Fourth Street were occupied with the usual line of operations and equipment characteristic of these buildings.
The fire apparently started around closing time on a windy March evening (5:30 P. M.) but was not discovered until around 7 o’clock when the pattern shop was well ablaze on both the first and second floors. It is believed that a small heater used for heating shellac set fire to shellac in a metal container and the fire resulted therefrom. Upon discovery of the fire a box alarm was transmitted and a first alarm assignment as noted above responded.
The assistant chief of the department arrived with the apparatus and assigned the engines as follows:
Engine Co. No. 1 at hydrant No. 4. and two lines stretched to the pattern shop on West Belton Street. Engine Co. No. 2 at hydrant No. 2, a single line being stretched to the pattern shop.
Engine Co. No. 3 at hydrant No. 1 and a single line stretched to the boiler shop to operate on the roof of this building, which was showing signs of heat.
These four lines continued in operation for possibly ten minutes when the chief arrived. Upon his arrival he noticed that the northeast section of the roof was seriously endangered and ordered the transmission of a second alarm which brought out the companies noted in the running card above.
Before the arrival of any of these companies, however, the roof of the boiler shop burst into flame, and the wind carried the fire out of reach of the streams operating from the outside or the stream beneath the roof in the boiler shop.
The wind drove the fire through the monitor top of the building. Upon the arrival of the second alarm assignment, Engine Co. No. 4 was stationed at hydrant No. 3 and a single line stretched through the boiler shop to the court just west of the stock room, at the north side of the boiler plant. This line operated in wetting down the roof of the stock room. Engine Co. No. 5 was placed at hydrant No. 5 and a single line stretched up ladder to operate on roof of the boiler shop.
When this last engine was put in operation there was a distinct drop in pressure and it was apparent that the engine could not be used to its full capacity due to vacuum being created.
No more engines were assigned for a few minutes, due to the fact that all available hydrants on the city system were occupied by engines.
The fire in the pattern shop got hotter and the roof of the boiler shop was soon ablaze along its entire north half.
Upon the first sign of fire coming through, embers began to drop and the men had to back their line away.
It was at this time that the chief decided to employ the plant water facilities, consisting of a 100,000 gallon elevated tank well filled, a 300 gallon per minute pump and several private fire hydrants.
About the time the first engine was placed. Engine Co. No. 6, at hydrant P1 of the private system, the metal beams supporting the roof began to warp and the men had to withdraw from inside the boiler shop entirely.
Two lines were laid from Engine Co. No. 6 around the boiler shop to the West Belton Street side and operated on the brick stock room which was beginning to show the effect of the fire.
A third alarm was at this time transmitted, bringing in the apparatus as noted in the running card.
Before any of the apparatus on the third alarm arrived, the entire roof of the boiler shop was ablaze and part of this had already fallen into the building. Fire quickly started in the combustible materials in the boiler shop, particularly around the wood working machinery, and it was apparent that little could be done toward saving this building.
The high ceiling, together with the large open area within, made spread of the fire very fast.
When the apparatus arrived on the third alarm fire had reached the roof of the car shop and was also seriously threatening the office, stock room, and shop building to the west of the fire building.
Lines were reassigned to cover the car shop, but so intense did the fire in the boiler shop become that little progress could be made. As a result the car shops were soon fully ablaze.
Fire also reached the lumber piles to the southeast of the fire building forcing lines on this side of the building to withdraw.
The chief, figuring that the boiler shop and car shops were doomed, concentrated all efforts toward preventing the fire front jumping across Fourth Avenue.
In this he was partially successful although the office building and stock room were finally involved by fire.
A reassignment of lines and the connecting up of Engine Cos. Nos. 7. 8 and 9 to private hydrants brought sufficient streams into play to enable the department to check the fire in the stock room and office building.
As it was. the boiler shop, car shop, lumber piles, office building and stock room were considered completely lost. The shop part of the stock room and the machine shop, together with group of buildings to the west thereof, were saved as were also the dwellings to the west of the office building.
The Editor’s ideas on the handling of this fire will be given in the next issue.
Box 52 Association Visits Laboratory—For the regular February meeting, the Box 52 Association of Boston visited the Factory Mutual Laboratory where an illustrated talk was given by C. W. Mowry, assistant manager of the Factory Mutual Fire Insurance Companies. Later, members went to quarters of Ladder No. 8 where a light lunch was served.