CORRESPONDENCE. CHEMISTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION.
To THE EDITOR:
Surely the day has come when the fire chief and fire marshal of every large city or town should be, if not a chemical expert, at least possessed of a fair knowledge of chemistry and be able to apply it. More especially is this necessary in the case of explosives, their composition, the safest methods of storing them, and how to avoid placing them in juxtaposition to substances that will cause them to explode, if by any chance they come in contact one with the other, or under conditions that will bring about the same results either by jar, careless handling, exposure to undue heat or moisture (such as may generate spontaneous combustion), or water which, in the case of calcium carbide, unslacked lime, or certain other substances, give forth heat sufficient to cause a disastrous blaze or explosion, and consequent fire. In the same way they should be acquainted with the constituents of naphtha, petroleum, gasolene, and similar explosive oils, their flash points, and the like. In fact, there is hardly an industry followed today that does not call for a knowledge of chemistry on the part of those who are engaged in fire service. With the risks attendant on the manufacture and use of gas all are so sufficiently acquainted that special precautions are prescribed by law to reduce to the lowest point the possibilities of danger arising from its production and use. The same remark applies to distilleries, although some fire chiefs and fire marshals allow them too much license, even to oil refineries and the storage of oils, although in the latter case the precautions against oil fires are by no means what they should be, and the municipal authorities and fire departments in too many instances exhibit an unaccountable apathy as to whether or not the safety of the public is sufficiently guaranteed. But now. many fire marshals know anything definite as to the properties of acetylene and the dangers accompanying its generation and use? How many are sufficiently up in chemistry to see that dye works are placed under proper supervision as to the operations conducted within their walls? How many go over grist mills and insist upon their being kept clear and free from dust-accumulations, of whose possibilities of causing fire from spontaneous combustion they are evidenly altogether ignorant? How many know that the action of a germ in newly made hay stored in a loft or ham or stacked in a yard sets up a heat, which at any moment may burst .out into a flame; or that stable manure produces the same effect owing to chemical action being set up by decomposition, and heat, which in time may become excessive and a source of danger, being generated therefrom? These last are simple causes of fire and easily to be guarded against; yet they are not locked after, hence, the origin of many mysterious fires which are set down to incendiarism or reported as being of “cause unknown,” yet the cause might be known perfectly well, and the fire prevented if the fire chief or fire marshal possessed the proper knowledge.
I have only briefly adverted to a few of the evils resulting from a lack of a knowledge of the beggarly elements of chemistry. To go deeper into the matter would take up too much of your space unduly. But would it not be a good idea if the subject were mooted at the ensuing convention of fire chiefs in your city? It might then be discussed more fully at a succeeding convention with profit both to chiefs and the community in general.
DETROIT, MICH., Sept. 5. 1902.
Brookfield. Mass., has again suffered a heavy loss by fire—the second since January. A conservative estimate sets it. down as between $65,000 and $75,000. The town hotfse. with most of its records, several stores, lodge rooms, offices, and an express company’s office were destroyed. Unlike North Brookfield, which has excellent firefighting facilities, including an ample supply of water. Brookfield is behind in that respect. In January three large business blocks were destroyed.