Do We Expect Too Much of Our Fire Apparatus?

Do We Expect Too Much of Our Fire Apparatus?

Specifications Should be Framed so as to Provide Apparatus Capable of Performing Efficiently Service Required

Chief Ross B. Davis

I HAVE been asked to supply the answer to the question, “Are We Expecting Too Much of Our Fire Apparatus?” I do not feel that I could justly qualify my answer, unless I paused for a minute to look back over the years and presented to you the picture of fire fighting of another day; a basis, if you please, for comparisons.

Practical men though we may be, perhaps it is with some regret that the older ones of us recall those glamorous days of fire fighting; days that might well be called the “gay nineties” of the fire game.

Stop for a minute to picture the apparatus of that day responding to an alarm:

Steam Pumper an Inspiring Sight

The steam pumper, a sight to thrill even the most unimaginative soul. Two or three plunging, snorting horses, with reins drawn tight by the driver as he leaned far forward from his scat and seemed perilously near to being catapulted into the street. And then the steamer itself. Sparks shooting out of its tall stack and embers from its fire box, leaving a jeweled trail behind as it rolled down the street.

Arrived at the scene of the fire the steamer was always the center of a fascinated group of spectators who stood in awed wonderment to watch the engineer and fireman operating that thumping, puffing symbol of fire fighting.

That steamer in action typified all the glamor and romance of the fire fighting game of that day. And it was something more than a thrilling spectacle to draw desirable attention to the business of fire fighting. That steamer radiated an air of confidence to the firemen. Its mighty thundering crescendo rising above the tumult of the fire grounds to reach the ears of the man on the business end of the pipe, assured him of the maximum supplv of that vital flow of water on which his life might depend, which was certainly necessary if he was to win in the hazardous combat in which he was engaged.

The Gasoline Pumper Appears

Then suddenly that tried and trusted piece of mechanism disappeared. In its place was found a silent, uninspiring collection of automatic valves and controls. You might call it the beginning of the stream-line days of the fire-fighting service.

Is it any wonder that some of the older of us in the fire-fighting game looked with some skepticism on this new contrivance? In its introduction this new pumper was subjected to a most severe test. It must make up in practical operation, in water delivery power and long term duty what it lacked in glamor and the properties for romantic inspiration. To be accepted and adopted by the old line firemen, this new pumper had to deliver.

Horses Relegated to Retirement

Warning of this forthcoming change was given in the early nineteen hundreds when the tractor was introduced to draw the steamer. More than a few tears were shed, as beloved horses were relegated to retirement farms and ceased any longer to thrill the spirited, hungry fire fan. This change marked the dawn of the new era in the fire fighting game.

Soon after, came the early designs of the present-day gasoline pumper. Frankly, I must say I was one of that group of conservative firemen who felt, as tests of the new apparatus were undertaken, that it could never begin to do the work of the older steamer.

But there was no delaying the engineering progress of the builders of the day. Increasing numbers of these new pumpers were being added to the equipment of the big city fire bureaus, and skeptical though some of us may have continued, we were forced to admit in practical tests that this new mechanical model performed very well.

Simplicity of Gasoline Apparatus Appeals to Skeptic

As Deputy Chief of our Bureau at the time, it was a part of my duties to test all apparatus offered for purchase. It was necessary for me to study the possibilities of this new type of fire apparatus.

Thoroughly familiar with the operations of the old steamer, there was one thing about this new pumper that first appealed to me. That was, that with a relief valve set at a certain pressure, the throttle regulated, the water circulation checked, with oil feeds and fuel supply in order, little remained to engage the operator of the pump. It was simple in comparison with the multitude of detail that fell to the lot of the engineer of the old steamer.

One of the important and distinguished features of the pumper was that it delivered an even flow of water in comparison with the fluctuating pressures of the old steamer.

Yet doubt as to the long time dependability of the new type pumper continued to exist in the minds of many of us. Could it maintain its efficient delivery over years of service, was the question most often advanced by the old line fire fighters. It was all an unfounded lack of confidence.

Efficiency of Apparatus Steadily Increases

There was no stopping the progress of engineering skill and ingenuity of the men interested. Leading fire apparatus builders, determined to provide a pumper that would rise sufficient to whatever demand was placed upon it, employed specialists who continuously introduced new improvements to increase the efficiency and capacity of their pumpers, as for instance they offered increased horse power by adding to the cylinders of their pumping engines. This progression in engineering design has never stopped.

Today these mechanical giants have advanced in the efficient performance of their requirements, extending the functions and power of the pumping engine until the thinking chief, as he pauses to consider, cannot help but wonder how he ever got along without them.

Not Expecting Too Much of Apparatus

Now as to this question, “Are We Expecting Too Much of Our Fire Apparatus?” my answer is “no.” That is my answer, provided I have an intelligent estimation of just what I should expect. The answer can be “no” only if, in writing our specifications for that apparatus, we frame them in such fashion as to insure delivery of a piece of mechanism capable of performing the service required. Specifications should insure sufficient horse power in the engine and ample capacity in the pump, remembering that sound judgment requires at least a 20 per cent factor of safety in horse power while delivering the peak load.

Reputation of Builder Important

There is another important element in this business of buying fire apparatus—the reputation of the apparatus builder. Is he an old and trusted builder who will guarantee his product and then give evidence of ability to stand behind this guarantee over a period of many years?

As far as I am concerned I should hate to see builders of fire apparatus make any drastic reduction in the purchase price of their machines, that

would necessitate the introduction of inferior workmanship and materials.

I insist we cannot be too particular in our selection of the company to supply us with our fire apparatus. With virtually every municipality in the country in straitened financial circumstances and introducing economies in every department and bureau, when an item like fire apparatus is purchased, the responsible persons must plan on that machine being in use for many years. In that long period of service he is going to need replacement parts. Therefore he must consider from the past, is this apparatus builder going to continue in business and be prepared to supply the needs as they arise?

Accepting Lowest Bid Not Always Safe Rule

Accepting the lowest bid is far from a safe rule to follow in the purchase of fire apparatus. It costs big money to build efficient and dependable fire-fighting equipment. The leading builders maintain large engineering forces set up for experimenting in the developing of equipment. This type of builder is rendering a real service to the fire-fighting profession. He is doing something that might well be the responsibility of the Fire Bureau Chief. He is contributing heavily to the cause of increased protection of life and property.

I have seen some interesting educational performances that have resulted from this progressive policy of standard fire apparatus builders. For instance, not so long ago, I staged a test of a newly purchased pumper, in its ability to deliver water on the top of a 38-story building. With readings of a pitot gauge at minute intervals, the pumper delivered 413 gallons of water per minute, with an 80 pound nozzle pressure and a 1J4~ inch tip, and mind you, at about 60 per cent of the engine’s maximum horse power. Certainly great credit is due the engineering organization making such a performance possible.

Perhaps Not Expecting Enough

“Are We Expecting Too Much of Our Fire Apparatus?” Again I say “no.” Perhaps we are not expecting enough. What was considered exceptional performance some years back is now rather commonplace. More powerful and efficient motors are available, pumping units are always being improved upon, and aerial ladder equipment, like all the other, is continually being scrutinized

for weaknesses or phases that can be bettered.

In closing, I would recommend that Fire Chiefs be even more exacting in the specifications which they draw up for new apparatus. The reliable and dependable apparatus builder can meet those specifications and will gladly do so. The builder that can’t meet your specifications is a risk and may cause you serious embarrassment sometime when he is not able to meet your emergency demands.

Your position is a highly responsible one and you can not afford to risk your reputation by having included in the equipment of your Bureau, apparatus that may fail you in the hour of great need. If, at a fire, the equipment fails, one sentence in the newspaper stating the fact, does not impress the public. They forget the apparatus was bought because of the low price rather than for quality and dependability. They probably attribute failure to carelessness of the men and of the officers in not supervising the work properly. You must convince the purchasers that the lowest bidder does not mean the lowest cost to the taxpayer.

(From a paper read before the annual convention of the Eastern Association of Fire Chiefs.)

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