Efficient Fire Protection in the Smaller Town
How to Improve Volunteer Fire Departments—Care of Hose and Apparatus—Equipment as to Tools and Auxiliaries —Drills and Instruction—Alarm Systems—Fire Prevention
THE following article, continued from page 1112, last week’s issue, is designed to be an assistance to those volunteer fire departments of smaller towns that are seeking to improve themselves in efficiency, both as regards Fire Fighting and Fire Prevention. This, of course, should mean every one of them, and to such departments the article should prove very useful.
Special Attention for Hose Not Frequently Used
“Much of the fire hose in service is in departments where, fortunately, for one reason or another, it is not called into frequent use. Such hose must have special attention over and above that given to hose which is put into service each month, week or day. This attention is required because of the tendency of all things to return to dust. Cotton, from which the hose jackets are made, is subject to damage from mildew, the favorable conditions for which are continued dampness with poor ventilation. Cotton fabric is at its best with respect to its strength and lasting properties if stored under conditions permitting good ventilation and the humidity of a bright June day. The rubber lining in the course of its manufacture is transferred from a plastic, puttylike mass to the condition in which it is found in new hose through a chemical reaction due to sulphur in the rubber compound. The period required for the reaction to take place is shortened by exposing the compound to heat. The reaction would nevertheless have progressed to approximately the same point in due course of time without recourse to artificial heat, and likewise continues at ordinary temperatures for presumably an indefinite length of time. Hence all rubber compounds are continuing the vulcanization process and will in time reach a condition of bone hardness. The rate of this process is speeded up when rubber is exposed to artificial heat, and at an increasingly faster rate with increases in the temperature. We arc familiar with the ‘fountain of youth’ effect which takes place when an old rubber band is placed in water for a day or two. While most rubber bands are practically pure rubber gum of high grade, this restoration of youth takes place to a greater or lesser degree with most rubber compounds when treated in this manner. Hose linings may be kept youthful by running water through each length at least every three or four months while the hose is stored ready for service. This should be done not only in case of hose in service, but with all reserve supplies of new or old hose.
“Above all do not permit unnecessary tinkering with automobile apparatus and pumps. That is the cause of much of the trouble. Tests should be made at frequent intervals, but by the best mechanic available, and the motor should be started at least once a day to insure good condition. Do not let every amateur who wants to experiment, play with it.”
“Because of the opposite effect of water, moisture, or dampness on the cotton fabric, care must be used to dry the hose jackets thoroughly and to drain all water from the tube before such reserve supplies are restored.
“One item which is not given frequent consideration, but which it is Delieved is worthy of careful attention in giving proper care to fire hose after purchase has to do with the condition of the rubber washers in the female couplings. It will frequently be observed that these have been pressed out of shape so that the inside edge projects into the throat or waterway of the coupling, offering a continual obstacle to the stream. The friction loss resulting, while possibly of slight amount, may be entirely avoided it on inspection of couplings the washers found in this condition are carefully trimmed with a sharp knife so as to leave the inner edges flush with the coupling throat. Naturally, like attention must be given to the first of new washers as these are supplied from time to time.”
Proper Care of Apparatus
Other apparatus needs similar care. Chemical extinguishers should be cleaned inside and out at fairly frequent intervals and maintained always in an operating condition. Especial care is needed for the hose nozzles and valves, to see that they do not become corroded or clogged. The pressure generated in operating is very high and disaster may result from neglect. In recharging, directions should be followed cxatly. Soda should be thoroughly dissolved in water before pouring into the tank to insure the best results and to prevent the settlement in the bottom.
Above all do not permit unnecessary tinkering with automobile apparatus and pumps. That is the cause of much of the trouble. Tests should be made at frequent intervals, but by the best mechanic available, and the motor should be started at least once a day to insure good condition. Do not let every amateur who wants to experiment, play with it. Gasoline and oil should be kept on hand, of the finest quality, and reliable means should be arranged to supply pumps at fires. Do not wait until a fire occurs some night when garages and filling stations are closed. Put in an underground tank and pump at the fire station and have safety cans ready to transport reserve supplies when needed.
Tools and Minor Equipment
Every department should be equipped with the following minor equipment: Axes, crowibars, pike pole, rope, hose straps, lanterns, shut off nozzles, smoke helmets, hose tester, burst hose jacket, hose expander, hand chemical extinguishers, hose clamps, and first aid.
The list given below includes other minor equipment exceedingly valuable at times: cellar pipe, door openers, nozzle holders, pull down hooks, wire cutters, rubber gloves, hose rollers, life belts shovels, sledges, lung motor, life nets and water proof covers.
“The fire station should be adequate in size, heated if chemicals or automobile apparatus is provided, and lighted. It should be as near fire proof as circumstances will permit, protected from inside and outside hazards, and convenient of access to the principal mercantile district. The street in front should be wide and preferably not the most used by heavy traffic or street cars liable to block or interfere with the quick response of the apparatus.” it is unreasonable to expect fire fighters to give their time and service to the public without recognizing the obligation on the part of the town to provide the necessary equipment. No man likes to work with poor or inadequate tools. Neither does he feel right when he is called to a fire and expected to do dirty, uncomfortable, dangerous work in whatever clothes he happens to have on, perhaps his best. It is little enough to expect that he be equipped with boots to keep his feet dry, a water coat to protect his clothes from water and sparks, and a helmet to protect his head from falling plaster and dripping water. Better service is given, too, when a man does not have to think so much of his clothes. A ruined suit of clothes has caused many a fireman to drop out of a department, simply because he cannot afford it.
Size and Location of Fire Stations
The fire station should be adequate in size, heated if chemicals or automobile apparatus is provided, and lighted. It should be as near fire proof as circumstances will permit, protected from inside and outside hazards, and convenient of access to the principal mercantile district. The street in front should be wide and preferably not the most used by heavy traffic or street cars liable to block or interefere with the quick response of the apparatus.
“In no single item does the volunteer fire department fall down more completely than in discipline and training. This is largely the fault of the chief officers. When a fire is raging is no time for argument, or half hearted compliance, or actual disobedience to orders of those in charge. If the chief cannot maintain discipline get rid of the recalcitrant member or get a new chief.”
Sleeping quarters for night men, paid or volunteer, should be provided, and club rooms to attract a good class of membership. A hose rack or tower will pay for itself in a short time in the increased life of hose.
The use of garages for the storage of fire apparatus is strongly to be condemned because of the inherent hazard that exists wherever gasoline is present. A recent garage fire in Denver caused a loss of $200,000 in contents and was extinguished twelve minutes from the time it started. Such a fire at night would entirely consume the apparatus almost before the fire was discovered. The temptation to use a garage is great because it is heated and generally open all night. Such use might be permissable if the appartus is separated from the rest of the building by an incombustible partition and provided with a separate exit to the street. Apart from the fire hazard the separate exit is needed because most garages are blocked with stored cars at night.
All of these things will take some thought and money and in very small towns will require considerable management to accomplish. Nearly every town has a meeting place for the Town Council, unused most of the time, or commercial club rooms which probably could be used also by the fire department.
Discipline in Volunteer Departments
In no single item does the volunteer fire department fall down more completely than in discipline and training. This is largely the fault of the chief officers. When a fire is raging is no time for argument, or half hearted compliance, or actual disobedience to orders of those in charge. If the chief cannot maintain discipline get rid of the recalcitrant member or get a new chief. Complete written regulations should be adopted and enforced strictly and impartially.
Necessity for Systematic Drills
It is a common error for towns people to think that they have a good fire department, and one of the chief tenets of local pride is the statement that their fire department is the best fire department in that part of the state. This is due to ignorance of what constitutes a good fire department. No fire department is a good fire department if it does not have regular, comprehensive, systematic drills. It can’t be. A carpenter isn’t a good carpenter if he does not know the best way of using his tools and what tools are best to use for a given purpose. Similarly a fireman isn’t a good fireman if he doesn’t know more than enough to make a coupling and turn a stream in the general direction of the fire. Any’ man knows that much, but fire fighting is an intensely technical profession and cannot be picked up by a casual watching of other firemen. Some millions of men learned that army life and training wasn’t all in wearing the uniform. Fire fighting is just as hard, just as technical, and will repay training just as well as the other kind of fighting. A different foe and a different ammunition is all that separates the two. A drill tower is invaluable, not only in stimulating and maintaining interest, but in providing a convenient place for instruction in needed exercises. Such a tower can be erected for five or six hundred dollars and often for less if the firemen and others interested will donate their services in its building, as most of them are willing to do. Sometimes a wall of the fire station or some other convenient building can be utilized and a super structure built on the roof.
Standardized Methods and Proper Instruction Manuals
Fire methods are fairly well standardized in the large city departments where schools are maintained. In small towns they vary according to the individual ideas of the chiefs and many of them are bad. For example no capable company would go to a fire to see whether hose was needed, then turn back to the hydrant and lay a line of hose. It is laughable to have to say that such a thing should always be done but most small town departments do not lay hose until they see the fire because of the labor of rolling up the unused hose. True, most fires are extinguished with chemicals, but the fire too big for chemicals gets an added start by the delay, often with disastrous results.
Another bad practice is for the chief to act as a hose man or to engage in active fire fighting—thereby decreasing his value. He should be the director, studying the fire, devising a better method of attack and planning the fight. Does a general of the army go out with a rifle to the front line?
Instruction books are rare. FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING publishes an excellent manual, “The New York Fire College Course,” which will repay careful study by any fireman. Some of the matter contained does not apply to small towns but most of it does.
Elementary Instruction for Every Fireman
Below are given a list of elementary instructions every fireman should have; not only to know but also to do regularly, consistently, to be sure that he does not forget and that he keeps up with the best practice.
- —Thorough practical instruction in the use of all of the tools, fittings and appliances owned by the department.
- —The handling and using of all ladders.
- —Crossing from window to window or from house to house with scaling ladders.
- —Hoisting and lowering ladders, large hooks, fire extinguishers, axes, etc., to and from the roof.
- —Coming down rope from roof and windows and carrying a person down. Also lowering others with rope.
- —Use of life saving appliances and first aid. The Red Cross will gladly furnish instruction in First Aid.
- —Making all varieties of useful, knots.
- —Connecting lines of hose, Siamese, etc.
- —Taking hose up ladders to roofs, etc.
- —Proper method of sending in alarms.
- —Study of hydraulics; friction loss of hose; number of lines a main will supply; advantage of siamesing two long lines; study of water systems; location of large and small mains, valves, hydrants, etc. Many a fire has been lost through ignorance of hydraulics.
- —Theory and operation of chemical extinguishers of various types; places to use each; how to recharge and maintain.
- —Care of hose and other apparatus.
- —Methods of fighting fires—oils-gas-electric-chemieal.
- —Local conditions. Assume fires in various buildings and dangerous locations and discuss the best method of attack.
- —Study of common standards of building; of exits; of protection; of gasoline handling and storage; of electric wiring,
- —Fire Prevention Work. Recognition of common hazards. Location of dangerous storage and hazardous buildings. Education of the public; public speaking.
Drills should be frequent, short, and with sufficient variety to maintain the interest. When the weather is bad the theoretical side can be taken up and a general discussion will bring out valuable points, particularly with respect to local conditions. Do not tire the men with long drills. Short drills at more frequent intervals are best.
Other Items Affecting Efficiency
In addition to the foregoing there are other items affecting the efficiency of the fire department; notably the condition of the streets in bad weather, steep grades, railway crossing, cross walks above or below the street grade, stream crossings, and the like. Electric wiring on poles and buildings may interfere with the rasing or use of ladders. Signs and awnings also cause inconvenience. The danger of electric wiring is chiefly in direct contact and not, as most people suppose, in tne possibility of the current traveling along the stream. Tests have shown that danger to be negligible.
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Adequate rules should be enforced, requiring all traffic to pull to the curb until fire apparatus has passed and requiring also that vehicles remain a sufficient distance away from the fire so as not to interefere with the laying and safety of hose lines. Users of water should be required to discontinue such use, particularly large consumers and lawn sprinklers, until the “all out” signal is given.
Departments from nearby cities are frequently saviors of towns hard pressed in conflagrations. If there are any such available within a comparatively short time co-operation should be arranged for and adapters provided in advance if the hose threads are different. The cost is small. The patented Glazier Quick Coupling will serve in most cases except when there is too great a difference in the outside diameters. Towns installing new hydrants should by all means have the National Standard thread.
Fire records should be kept in convenient form, giving in detail the time of alarm, cause, damage to building and contents, insurance paid on buildings and contents, names of members responding, method by which fire was extinguished, hose laid, ladders used, chemicals used, water pressure and Other pertinent items. Records should also be kept of all fire department inspections of buildings, with dangerous conditions noted and whether corrected or not. Closed valves in street water mains should be reported to the fire department.
“Fire records should be kept in convenient form, giving in detail the time of alarm, cause, damage to building and contents, insurance paid on buildings and contents, names of members responding, method by which fire was extinguished, hose laid, ladders used, chemicals used, water pressure and other pertinent items. Records should also be kept of all fire department inspections of buildings, with dangerous conditions noted and whether corrected or not.”
Hydrants should be tested regularly, either by the fire or the water department, and flushed and repaired when needed. An important duty of the fire department, often overlooked, is an annual or semi-annual inspection of all public and private standpipes and hose, chemical extinguishers and other appliances, to see that they are in good operative condition.
Best Alarm System Available Should be Installed
The value of a fire department is dependent largely upon the speed with which it can respond to alarms. Obviously the best alarm system available should be installed so that the time will be short between the discovery of the fire and the arrival of the apparatus with men to handle it. The telephone is in almost universal use and carries a large percentage of alarms even where street boxes are installed but its reliability is seriously hampered by the human element. When an excited householder calls central to give an alarm he communicates some of his haste and uncertainty to her. Generally she must then call the fire department, the chief, or the man who operates the general alarm, multiplying the chances of error with each person who handle the alarm, sometimes to such an extent that it would be easier and quicker for the man discovering the fire to run to the fire station himself. It the alarm comes at night someone often must dress before going to give the alarm, with a loss of valuable time. All possible human assistance should be eliminated. The best method is to have a manual sending apparatus in the telephone central station, operated by central, who, upon receiving an alarm, notes the location and the ward from which it comes, and gives the alarm herself either by an electric switch or by the use of a sector wheel box. This latter is a mechanical contrivance, electrically operated, with cut wheels upon a rack, numbered to correspond to the desired signal. The operator selects the wheel desired, places it upon the spindle and pulls the lever. The use of this presupposes than an electric striking apparatus, or other electric control, is installed.
When a man must be called to the telephone to give an alarm, he should have a separate telephone for fire alarm use only, equipped with an extra loud, distinctive gong. The fire station should have a similar arrangement even if no one is always present, for the use of successively arriving volunteers who may not know the location of the fire. Central is not permitted, by many telephone companies, to give out fire information, but arrangements can be made to get information over fire department telephones.
It is a good practice for the first man responding, to ascertain the location and write it upon a large slate near the telephone for the information of later arrivals.
Instruction in Sending Alarm from Box
It is important that every person in town be instructed in the proper method of sending in alarms. If boxes are used he should know the location of the one nearest his home and business, and how to operate it. He should also be taught to stay at the box until the department arrives to give more definite information. If boxes are not used he should know the various wards and ward signals and how best to give the alarm.
One or more street telephones should be installed in the business district for night use when stores will be closed so that anybody discovering a fire would not have to waste time hunting for a place that might not happen to be open.
Homes of the Chief and other members should be equipped with gongs for night use. Night is the period of lowest efficiency of volunteer departments because of the time needed to get men awake and out. It is not a very satisfactory arrangement to have central call each man in turn over his home telephone because of the time element, but that is better than none.
Above all things see that central understands thoroughly the methods of handling alarms. Frequent changes in personnel in the telephone office make it necessary that this be watched. A complete set of printed instructions should be posted in the office for their information. Recognizing the value of intelligent co-operation, many departments elect the telephone operators to membership in the fire department.
Several General Alarm Systems
Assuming that the town is not yet ready to install a telegraph fire alarm system with street boxes, which should be done as soon as financial condition will warrant, there are several good general alarm arrangements. The tower bell has been the most popular in the past, worked by hand with ropes or with an electric striker. The latter is probably still the best arrangement for a small town because of the ease with which ward signals can be given, indicating the definite location of the fire, and the reliabilty. Where the town is extensive two or more bells, all connected to the same striking arrangement, will be needed. The bells, of course, should be fire bells, with a distinctive tone and large enough to waken sleepers at night.
The new thing attracts all men and the electric siren has had a wide sale. It has its place because of the volume of sound produced and because the character, a vibrating wail which rises and falls, is arresting and distinctive.
The steam whistle of some local power plant is excellent but should not be relied upon unless steam pressure is always available, days, nights and holidays, and unless there is an attendant always on duty with a positive means of communication to him of all alarms promptly and accurately. The steam whistle lends itself well toward signalling.
Before installing a street box system it would be well to secure advice of the Underwriters as to the type and location of boxes and other apparatus. Such systems are complicated and information regarding them is difficult to obtain other than through the manufacturers or the officials of other cities. Once installed they should be maintained in first class operative condition with frequent tests and inspections. Boxes should be made conspicuous by a band of red paint around the supporting pole and in the business district should have a red light to indicate their positions at night. Some towns’ have complained that after installing an expensive system people would not use it. preferring the telephone. That is a direct criticism of the fire department for its lack of ability or interest in educating the public. Experience has shown that the street box system is far quicker and more certain than any other because of the elimination of the human element.
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Importance of Fire Prevention
The best fire department in the world would not be effective in keeping the loss record low if there is not also the work of fire prevention, equally important. The best time to fight fire is before it starts. Trash of any kind, old furniture, oily rags, gasoline and oils in ordinary cans, electric wiring, defective flues, shingled roofs, all contribute to the ash heap we pile up to the amount of a million dollars a day, to say nothing of the loss of life and the suffering of the burned. There is only one successful method of operation and that is through the understanding, cordial and whole-hearted co-operation of the property owners, the city officials, and the fire department; the city officials to pass the necessary ordinances, the fire department to inspect the premises and point out the hazards, and the property owner to remove or safeguard them. This cannot be done merely by passing laws. There must be education of the public in the necessity of the work so that what must be done is done willinglv Always you will find one or two who violate every law. who consider personal privilege above the common good, and resent any official interference with their methods of running their business. Such as cannot be persuaded must be clubbed but the necessity for force will be small if the work is done well and with tact and good judgment.
Where and how to teach fire prevention requires local study. Strike first at the thing that causes the most fires in your town. Do not overlook the children. Fire prevention education in the schools is most effective and a lesson learned young will stick the longest. Children cause many fires because they do not understand, not because they are willingly careless. It goes without saying that places of public assemblage should receive vigorous attention. Moving picture theatres have piled up an appaling list of dead and injured. There is an average of one school house a day burned, and the church record is worse, because janitors try to heat buildings quickly.
Fire prevention is too large a subject to be covered in a short article. There are any number of books on ways and means. Several magazines are devoted to the subject and the National Board of Fire Underwriters, the National Fire Protection Association and any number of similar organizations are anxious to co-operate, by furnishing information and advice. There is no lack of sources of information. The great lack is in the users of it, the Ultimate Consumer, who is too often the consumed.