“Disaster Call” Shows Its Value
A few years ago, Mill Valley, Cal., a little town of about 5,500 inhabitants, added a new signal to its list of fire signals. The new call was termed the “disaster” or “Legion emergency” signal and consisted of three short blasts on the city’s fire whistle, repeated four times.
Once in while, drills were held and the “emergency” call given to time the response of the American Legion men and others who responded to the call.
Then, recently, heavy rains undermined several large trees and caused them to crash with an accompanying rush of tons of dirt on a summer home where four persons were readying it for occupancy. A young man and his mother managed to jump out of a window
before the house was engulfed by the slithering mud. but his father and an aged man were trapped and crushed by the falling giant redwoods.
The alarm was flashed by neighbors to the Mill Valley Fire Department. Chief David L. Arnst sped to the scene, arriving just in time to shout a warning to early-arriving rescue workers as another slide and more trees crashed down. A call was made to fire headquarters for help, and in a moment the “disaster” call “was being echoed through the hills. In a short time, hundreds of men began to arrive at the scene of the disaster. Working with pick and shovel, ropes and winches, or with their hands, they tore at the mass of debris.
When night fell, Chief Arnst ordered out the department’s light wagon and the work continued. Women of the Legion Auxiliary made coffee and sandwiches for the toilers. Soon two of the city’s pumpers were ordered to the scene to wash out the mud. The first body was recovered early the following morning. The second was not recovered until the third day. The light wagon was used each night until the second body was recovered. The two pumpers worked for thirty-two hours.
The call demonstrated to the citizenry that the fire department is on its toes. Under the able guidance of Chief Arnst, the department has developed into a well-oiled, if small, machine.
The department consists of seven paid men and twelve call men. There are two 750-gallon pumpers, an AmericanLaFrance and a Seagrave; a forestry truck, a light wagon, an ambulance and a Chief’s car.
All the companies have a first aid kit and all members have Red Cross certificates. Chief Arnst has an instructor’s certificate. In addition, more than 200 local residents hold certificates, having completed the course.
The department members have built a four-story drill tower and go through a complete set of evolutions.
Response to alarms depends on the location and call. A house fire gets two pumpers on the first call. Brush fires are attended by one pumper and the forestry truck. The light wagon rolls on everything at night.
The fire limits are divided into fortyfive districts, and, while there is no box alarm system, a fire whistle blown by an automatic transmitter announces all alarms. In addition, each fireman, paid
and call, has a tapper in his home. Paid firemen work thirty-six hours, are off twenty-four on “call” and then work another thirty-six followed by a twenty-four off. Call men get $2.50 per call.
A fire prevention bureau is maintained. A systematized inspection of business houses is made every thirty days and each residence is visited once a year. A record card is kept for every piece of property in town.
The Mill Valley Fire Department is one of ten Marin County departments participating in a mutual assistance plan which provides for automatic move-up of apparatus from town to town. If a local department is unable to control a fire, the others are notified and provision is made on the running cards for three alarms in addition to the local one. Nineteen pumpers, a hose wagon, water tank and two light wagons are available for the plan plus added help from the Tamalpais Forest Fire District which has eleven three-quarter ton trucks which carry 100 gallons of water, a 100 gpm pump, brush hooks, shovels, brooms and pump cans.
Water is supplied to all these towns from three lakes in the Tamalpais watershed which are inexhaustible. In addition, each town maintains reservoirs in which water is stored so that a break in the main line would not make for disaster. Mill Valley has 15,000,000 gallons in such reservoirs. Hydrants in the down town section have a pressure of 110 pounds and twenty hydrants on one ten-inch main have a static pressure of 175 pounds.