BOSTON’S FIRE DEPARTMENT.
In a lecture recently delivered at Charlestown by District Chief Grady, the fitting successor of the late District Chief Egan, under the above caption, the evolution of the present very complete department of Boston was lucidly and interestingly shown. He gave a very graphic sketch of the risks to which a firemen is exposed, and showed in what many of them consisted.
It is not (he said) the fire that makes the biggest show that is the hardest to fight. The fire that goes roaring through the roof of a building, lighting up the city for miles round, is sometimes much more easily subdued than the dull, smoky cellar fire that forces men to face the severest kind of punishment, the effects of which are felt for weeks afterwards. Next to a dangerous cellar fire nothing is more dreaded by the men than what is known in their own language as the “back draft.” This is a sudden veering of the flames, usually caused by the burning away of some portion of the building which gives the fire a new draft and changes its course completely. Many a brave fellow has lost his life by this deadly back draft. Fires in warehouses filled with drugs and paints mean grave dangers to the firemen. Such fires are usually caused by spontaneous combustion, and are dangerous to fight, carboys of different acids being packed in hay or straw, which makes a dense smoke, and this smoke is sometimes charged with the fumes of said acid—the combination making a most deadly mixture to breathe. Still, fires of this kind must be fought as bravely as fires amid less dangerous surroundings. Sometimes the men can remain in such situations only for a few minutes at a time; then they retreat to the street, while a fresh squad or company takes their place. They cannot afford to give the fire a chance to gain the slightest headway. All the serious fires seem to occur on bitterly cold days or nights, and the sufferings of the men at such fires are great. To work out of doors in a freezing temperature is not very pleasant under any circumstances; but to work in water and with water while exposed to the bitter cold is more than disagreeable. You stand upon the round of a ladder at, perhaps, the fourth or fifth story of a building directing a stream of water at the blazing interior, with another stream, perhaps, playing over your head and enveloping you in an icy spray. Icicles hang from every point of your fire hat, and your coat is frozen to your back, while the water that is falling about you freezes as it falls. Every movement on the ladder about you is dangerous, it being so incrusted with ice that it is almost impossible to get a secure foothold, while a misstep might hurl you to the ground. Such is the experience of every fireman during the winter months. Broken glass and melted lead are among the other dangers that firemen are compelled to face at bad fires. The forrrer occurs at almost every fire, and is caused by the flames bursting through the windows or by the efforts of the firemen to make an opening in the building. The latter is caused by the burning away of metal cornices and ornamental iron work at the top of buildings, in which an immense amount of solder is used. Sometimes a perfect rain of molten lead pours down, with an occasional piece of red hot tin or zinc for variety. Men working upon ladders or on fire escapes underneath have to stand this red-hot shower as best they can, while it burns great holes in their coats, or protect themselves as best they can, by crouching inside the window frames. Considering the exposure that men in this business have to endure, jumping out of a warm bed on a bitter cold night to answer an alarm, driving through the streets in the face of biting wind, finishing their dressing as they dash along, working in water-soaked clothing in a freezing temperature, and having many hours of exhausting work at a time, the mortality among the fireman is very light