Chief Swenie Corrects Commissioner Murphy.
To the Editor of FIRE AND WATER :
J. R. Murphy, a member of the Boston Fire Commission, writing in FIRE AND WATER of December 30, in reference to a fire in Chicago, makes statements that are erroneous and misleading. He says “the fire began in a one story frame shed.” Now this frame annex was eighty feet by two hundred feet by some twenty feet high, therefore containing over 300,000 cubic feet of space, being more of a freight depot than “ a one-story shed.” Continuing he says, “ The flames jumped a street eighty feet wide and burned the low buildings on the other side.”
Mr. Murphy, being a fire commissioner, must be fully aware of the importance of first obtaining facts from headquarters, instead of drawing on surmise, as is too often the practice of unstable writers. The inference left by his loose words is that the fire jumped the street in spite of all efforts of the fire department. Whereas the plain fact is that it was wholly and solely owing to unlooked for obstructions in the water mains at the critical moment, that it was made possible for the fire to cross the street, and the following facts proving the same could easily have been obtained by Mr. Murphy, had he applied for them, as he should have done.
Before the fire had appeared in the Madison street front of the burning building, the department laid out and had ready three powerful Siamese streams, besides the single ones, purposely provided for guarding the probability of the fire crossing the street ; but just as the flames appeared and these streams were needed to check them, the steamers had to be shut down on account of the water supply failing, and upon uncoupling the suctions their strainers were found thoroughly choked up with leaves, weeds, shavings, gravel and such like obstructions. It was at this vital and fatal interim that the flames, solely uncombated save by one single stream from steamer No. 34, crossed the street, and their crossing was positively due to this fact and to none other. The presence of these obstructions in the water mains is a matter with which the fire department has neither any control nor direction over, and which was never met with before or since. The usually written reports of the captains of the various companies were filed in due time and form in this office, each containing exact information relative to this matter, and all this was attainable by anyone interested, and especially by one in Mr. Murphy’s position. Consequently when he follows up the above with the statement: “ Here, again, was a case that owing to the lact that in the neighborhood there were only low three story brick buildings the fire did not extend further.” This is mere surmise, predicated on a false base, and simply must be considered as theoretical vaporing, as immediately opposite the burning building stood the Ilaymarket Theatre, a six-story building of eighty feet frontage,
Mr. Murphy says, “ It docs not require any expert knowledge to see the advantages of one city over the other.” But it does require some very peculiar knowledge to understand what Chicago conditions have to do with Boston fires, and the Boston [[method of dealing with fires. The Chicago Fire Department endeavors to attend to putting out Chicago fires, and is not trying to share or smear blame on any other fire department.
It is a significant fact that practical firemen are never known to resort to building and fighting newspaper fires. And further, the faults and failings of no department (all have them) are excused, remidied or obliterated by pointing out the mote in any other fire department.
The loss by the Chicago fire referred to was $384,617, valuation $861,749, insurance $630,600.
D. J. SWENIE,
CHICAGO, January 9, 1894. Fire Marshal.