CAMP MERRITT FIRE DEPARTMENT
It being a Debarkation Camp, Conditions are Different to Most of the Other Cantonments—Officer in Charge an Engineer in New York City Department on Leave—Fine Record of the Camp Department
WITH real and personal property to the extent of $15,000,000 involved and with a fire loss of only about $10,000 is the enviable record established by Fire Truck and Hose Company No. 340, Q. M. C., since it has been doing fire duty at Camp Merritt, N. J., for the past year and a half. Merritt is a debarkation camp, and for this reason presents greater fire risks than a camp where troops are stationed at one post for months at a time. At training camps the troops become familiar with the location of fire appliances and are of great aid to the camp fire departments, while at a camp such as Merritt, the troops simply pass through, stopping for a day or two, and are of little aid to the department as they are unfamiliar with the camp and its fire apbe useless as fire pliances and consequently would fighters.
It was in October 1917 that the military authorities first sent professional fire-fighters to Merritt. The American La France Type 12, combination pumping and chemical engines, capacity 750 gallons per minute, and a handful of professional New York City firemen, and a few firemen from Philadelphia and Boston, were installed in an old barn on the camp site to protect the buildings already completed and those under construction. The department has since grown to one of three single companies and one double company. Six pieces of apparatus are now in use as follows: Three American T.a France Type 12, combination pumping and chemical engines, capacity 750 gallons per minute; one Brockway combination chemical and hose wagon; and two Dodge chemical and service cars.
For some months the department was under the supervision of the Constructing Quartermaster of the camp. When the camp was completed, however, the department was turned over to the Camp Quartermaster Corps. Early in 1918, the Utilities Department at the camp was made a separate detachment, and Fire Truck and Flose Company No. 340, was made a separate company under this detachment. The writer, who was former engineer in the New York City Fire Department, on indefinite leave of absence, was assigned as the commanding officer on February 26, 1918.
Appliances were installed in the various type buildings in camp as follows; two-story frame barracks, 1 qt. chemical extinguishers, and one 5-gallon hand-pump water geyser, on each floor; mess halls, 1 pail of sand and one 1-quart chemical extingisher in each kitchen, and two 5-gallon hand-pump water geysers one near each of the two hot air heaters in each mess hall; officers quarters, one 2j4-gallon chemical extinguishers on each hallway landing of the two floors, and one 1-quart chemical extinguisher in the kitchen; in each of the Base Hospital wards there was installed two 2U>-gallon chemical extinguishers, and axes were placed at intervals of 50 feet along the corridor runways. On the platforms of each warehouse there were placed four 50-gallon water casks, to which there were affixed two pails.
Inspectors were sent out daily to make inspections of all appliances. They reported any missing or defective and these were immediately replaced. Special inspectors covered the warehouse and hospital sections. No smoking and no accumulation of inflammable material was tolerated in either of these latter two sections. By dividing the camp into sections it was possible to cover practically every building daily. Because of the fact of this rigid inspection and the fact that every building was adequately covered with fire appliances and all non-essential inflammable material was taken from the buildings daily, the fire department was able to hold the fire loss of the camp to practically nil.
The permanent men assigned to the Base Hospital and warehouse sections, were instructed by the firemen in the use of appliances in their respective sections, and their aid would have been of great value in the event of a conflagration in either of the sections. As has been said already, the transient soldiers could not have been trained to aid the department as they were not in camp long enough.
The authorized strength of Fire Truck and Hose Company No. 340 is 42 enlisted men and 2 commissioned officers. Until recently the company was under strength, and has never had more than oiie commissioned officer permanently assigned to it. The camp covers an area of about four miles square, so it can be seen that it necessitated a good deal of work to cover all buildings daily and that in a thorough manner.
The largest fire in the camp history occurred in the stable section the latter part of the. winter of 1918. One stable was lost with several animals, at an estimated loss of $8,000. The loss of the building was due to the fact that the fire was not discovered until it had gained considerable headway. The department succeeded in retarding its progress and saving all the nearby buildings. The other fires in camp were all extinguished before they had gained any headway, and their combined loss in dollars does not exceed $2,000.
The soldier fire department, with regular city equipment, has proved so successful during the present campaign that it is understood the Government will maintain fire departments in all of the regular army posts in the future. In former times, the enlisted men of permanent posts fought fire with a bucket brigade and hand hose reels. Regular army men are now being instructed in this work which will form an added department in the military service.