Delays of Fire Apparatus at Crossings

Delays of Fire Apparatus at Crossings

The vexatious delays which sometimes occur when fire apparatus are compelled to cross railroad tracks in answering alarms and long freight trains block their passage have been referred to many times in these columns. One of the departments which has recently had much trouble in this respect is that of Fresno, Cal. Serious delays occurred at a fire in that city last month, the apparatus being held up by a freight train blocking the only available crossing in one instance fully ten minutes.

In commenting on the problem Chief Thomas Baird writes FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING as follows:

“We find that it is a difficult problem, one which requires considerable study in order to arrive at a solution which will be a satisfactory one to all parties concerned and still give the desired results. As a matter of fact we have not as yet been able to solve it to our entire satisfaction but we have arrived at one agreement with the railroad company to the effect that in the future no trains will be brought into the yards until they have sufficient cleared track space to be able to pull them into the clear without having to stop on crossing. They have agreed to pull as far into the yard as possible and not come to a stop until the crossing is cleared. This procedure is what has caused all the difficulty.

“We find that the railroad companies, locally, arc very anxious to work with us in every way possible and are anxious to find a solution for the problem. As long as we are confronted with the grade crossing I believe that the solution we have arrived at will prove to be as satisfactory as any other which could be considered. Trains will always be moving until they have cleared all crossings and this is about all we can expect. In our opinion the only solution which could be more satisfactory could be to construct either viaduct or subways and this we are not able to bring about at this particular time.”

Delays of Fire Apparatus at Crossings

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Delays of Fire Apparatus at Crossings

An evil which seems, at least in some sections of the country, to be growing rather than lessening, is the interference with fire apparatus when answering alarms through the slow passage or even stopping of railroad freight trains on crossings. The laws governing this matter vary considerably in states and municipalities, but it seems that even where ordinances do exist prohibiting freight trains from closing off crossings when the fire apparatus is approaching, there is often a tendency to ignore the statute or to violate it.

A flagrant case in point is noted in the account of the large church fire in Pittsburgh described in this week’s issue. The fire apparatus of the city, answering a second alarm, where promptness and speed were essential, were seriously delayed by the stoppage of freight trains at a crossing where a detour by the fire engines was impossible. In one instance the fire company was delayed eight minutes and in others from three to five.

Of course the logical remedy for this evil is the adoption of depressed or elevated crossings in every instance where traffic moves at right angles to a railroad, but for financial reasons, or from failure of agreement between the railroad and the city this solution is not always feasible. However, in the case of the fire apparatus, there is always possible the adoption of ordinances regulating the stoppage and slow passage of freight trains over grade crossings. when the fire apparatus is involved. In these cases the breaking of a long train should be insisted upon when it has been stopped to cut out cars or for similar purposes, in order to let the firemen proceed.

In cases where a long freight train is approaching a crossing at the same time as the fire apparatus, the law should be explicit in giving the fire-fighters the right of way. and the gateman should understand that this is to be done in every instance. In most cases the matter can be arranged by conference with the railroad officials without recourse to law, but where such an agreement is not possible of arrangement, the law should be invoked and the railroad company be compelled to obey its provisions.

The enforcement of such measures are not in the province of the fire chief, it is true, but he should have the hearty backing of his city authorities in the compelling of the railroad to observe the law in all such cases, and the full penalties should attach to violation.