DANGER FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE.
The electric light of to-day—or rather of to-night—will not be the electric light of a few years hence. There is comfort in this reflection. No innovation of late years has augmented the fire hazard as has this new medium of turning darkness into light. This is stating the case strongly, but the averment cannot be gainsaid. As an invention the electric light is not new, but its adoption for practical use is of recent date. It can be seen now in almost every city and town in the world, but it still remains in an unperfected condition. It will be changed in many respects. Its operation will be simplified, and its cost will be cheapened. But while the inventors are endeavoring to attain perfection with the light itself they should not neglect to make it safe to life and property. Numerous disastrous fires of late have had their origin traced to a defective electric lamp or wire. Two fires were started in New York in one day by electric lamp wires coming in contact with wood, and in Philadelphia sparks from a lamp set fire to a factory, which was totally consumed, together with a number of the employees. It is evident that the electricians have heretofore failed to appreciate the difference between an electric light wire conveying a current sufficient to kill a man and a wire used for ordinary telegraphic purposes.
At the Convention of Fire Engineers, held a short time ago at Richmond, Va., a committee appointed to report on the subject said, that in considering the subject of electricity in connection with any form of combustion, we must of necessity ignore all forms of electrical currents, save the most condensed and powerful. It has been time and time again demonstrated that lightning or atmospherical, frictional electricity, in seeking a lodging place in mother earth, often becomes a dangerous incendiary, against whose ravages no adequate protection has, as yet, been satisfactorily devised. The many disastrous fires in the oil regions of Pennsylvania during recent years have called out much learned public discussion, and while men were devising means to ward off future attacks, the clouds proceeded tranquilly upon their way and the thunderbolts descended with no respect to regularity or warning. The combustion of any object or ignitable material, when inflamed by a thunderbolt, is doubtless more rapid than would be the case under other circumstances of ignition, but probably no more rapid than com* bustion arising from some explosive agency, equally as destructive and instantaneous in action. Until recently the danger of voluntary fires, arising from chemical electricity, has been slight or entirely absent, because the volume of electricity required to transmit messages by motion or sound was and is entirely indifferent as a fire producing element. Danger from this source can only arise where combined and powerful currents are concentrated for the production of heat and light, and it is of the greatest importance that the conductors of such currents of electricity be thoroughly insulated, especially in connection with the electric light now coming into use in many cities and localities. Carelessness in this particular will some day demonstrate that ”powerful electrical action generated by chemical forces is as dangerous and disastrous as the thunderbolts of heaven. The only logical and practical suggestions looking to protection against this fire-producing element are found in the careful insulation of all objects to be protected, so far as human ingenuity can suggest such practical and thorough insulation, and disasters arising, notwithstanding such precaution, must be met and combated with such skill and apparatus as the present places within our command.
The resolutions of the Committee were adopted by the Association, as follows:
Afler hearing the report of the Committee on Topic No. 2, and the evidence adduced in the discussion following as to the danger of combustion and the liability of serious injury and probable death to any one coming in contact wih improperly insulated or broken wires used for conducting eleclricity for lighting purposes, it is the opinion of this Association that, as the electric light is about to be introduced in many of our cities and towns, and without due precautions being taken in putting up the wires, and their introduction into buildings, they will become one of the worst and most dangerous factors in the already sufficiently difficult problem of “unknown causes of fires,” and their extinguishment, that our Fire Departments have to contend with ; therefore
Resolved, That we, the National Association of Fire Engineers of the United States, urge upon the authorities of all cities and towns where the electric light is about to be introduced, the absolute necessity of passing ordinances governing the manner in which all wires shall be strung for the purpose of producing the electric light.
First—That the wires shall be distinct from all others.
Second—That they shall be thoroughly insulated.
Third—There shall be upon the exterior of all buildings where the wires are in. troduced an absolute cut-out (not a mere shunt), so that in case the Firemen are called upon by cause of fire to enter there the danger of instant death—the inevitable result of coming in contact with improperly insulated or broken wires under very many situations—may be in a very great measure avoided.
Among those present at the meeting of Chiefs was Joseph W. Stover a well-known Boston electrician, who entered into the discussion and gave the Convention the benefit of his counsel. In an interview recently held, he pursued the same subject further. He said that in the production of any and all of the electric lights now in use the currents used are of the most intense description. Large conductors of copper wire are used, but when the lights are burning these wires are so full of the subtle fluid that a portion of it will quit the lines upon the slightest provocation. The law of electricity is that it moves in the line of the least resistance, and so long as the conductors are large enough, and their continuity maintained, there is no danger, but let the current be increased beyond the carrying capacity of the conductor, or an obstruction or extraordinary resistance to its free passage occur, and instantly there is a disposition on the part of the fluid to jump the track. Separate the conductor for an electric light, and sparks will run from one end to the other of the severed wire through a space of at least half an inch, and if any combustible article were near, of course it would take fire. Let any one pick up those wires, and he would be hurried into eternity with no time to say a prayer. It is undeniable that, as now used, tliere is considerable danger both to life and property in the electric light. Men have been killed and property destroyed by the electricity used. The companies engaged in the business should recognize the danger involved, and provide against it. All wires should be carefully insulated; every inch should be covered ; they should be colored, or so marked that every one would soon know them at sight) especially firemen, who are liable to find them in burning buildings, and at the point of entrance to buildings, the wires should be provided with “cut outs,” so the current could be entirely shut off, just as water or gas may be, in case of necessity.
The Commissioners of the New York Fire Department apprehend much danger from the electric light wires which are stretching over so much of the city. A few nights ago the woodwork over the entrance of one of the theatres was fired by contact with the naked wire, permitted by a break in the insulator. Lead over the wood was melted by the electric current. The lights whose wire did this damage belong to the theatre, and are not connected with the public lighting of the streets. The other day three fire alarm circuits were made useless, the magnets being destroyed and the relay magnets burned out in the telegraph office of the Fire Department Headquarters by contact with the wires of the Brush Electric Light Company. The Fire Commissioners have passed a resolution, which, after reciting these facts, orders the department’s counsel to confer with the Corporation Counsel relative to taking legal measures to force the Brush Company to pay for the damage done, and prevent similar accidents from happening in future. If the insulation is thus imperfect while new, constant repetition of such accidents when it becomes old and worn out is, the fire officials say, to be feared. The electric wires, however, chiefly trouble the department when they have to be cut away from the tops of houses to permit the firemen to work at fires. They have to be cut with an instrument having a wooden handle. If the handle is wet it becomes a conductor, and the fireman holding it stands in danger of receiving a fatal shock. That no fatal accident of the sort has happened as yet is due to the great care which is exercised by the firemen, and which, sooner or later, in an exciting emergency will not be exercised,