Fighting thr Church Fire
Heavy Streams Needed— Dangerous Work for Men.
IT is estimated on the basis of reliable figures, that there is an average of between five and six church JL fires per day in this country. The loss last year alone totalled in the neighborhood of $10,000,000.
While it is not the object of this article to enter into a discussion of the causes of such fires, nor to offer suggestions for preventing them, nevertheless it will be of interest to note that defective or improperly operated heating equipment is responsible for the largest number of fires.
During winter weather churches as a rule are used only on Sundays and are permitted to go the balance of the week without heat. Then when Saturday night returns, the sexton gets busy and forces the heating system in order that the church building may be properly warmed by Sunday morning. The result is an unusual number of fires from this cause.
Defective chimneys and flues also are credited with a large proportion of church building fires.
Construction Favors Fast Extension
The construction usually employed in church buildings is of such a type as to favor fast spread of fire, once it gets a start. Concealed spaces between plaster and masonry on walls as well as blind attics, to say nothing of the highly inflammable construction in connection with the organ, make it extremely difficult for the department to do quick and effective work. Where hot air pipes are present, and they are found in a great number of churches, they aid in spreading fire, originating in the furnace room, throughout the entire building.
Even the decorations in the average church are highly inflammable, and, due to the great interior height and area of the average church building, these decorations, once they take fire, constitute quite a difficult problem for the department to handle.
A typical church fire, starting in the basement, spreads through the heating pipes up into the main auditorium as well as to the rooms in the rear of the pipe organ, and even to the organ gallery itself. The travel of fire, in the presence of large open areas, is fast, and usually by the time the fire is discovered the auditorium is well involved. The fire also gets in behind the partitions and rises to the blind attic where it spreads in all directions and remains beyond the reach of the department until long ladders are brought into play on the outside and the roof opened up, or until the ceiling falls.
As a rule, fire involving the blind attic so weakens the roof beams that after a short time the roof falls through, carrying the ceiling with it. The type of roof trusses used to support the peaked roof upon collapsing often force some of the masonry work outward, with a result that the department operating at the fire has to be on the alert at all times for falling bricks, stones, and other materials.
An additional hazard to the men operating at such a fire is created by the presence of slate shingles, which are released through the fire burning in the blind attic, and which come sailing down to the street, frequently resulting in injury to the men. When the blind attic is fully involved, it is extremely hazardous for the men to operate within the auditorium of the church due to the possibility of the roof and ceiling falling through. In view of these conditions it is common practice, and practically necessary, to operate entirely from the outside of the building once fire has gotten hold of the structure. This slows up work, and results in a marked lack of effectiveness in bringing the blaze under control. However, it is a question of safety to men rather than hazardizing the lives of men in an endeavor to save a little additional property.
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Fighting the Church Fire
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In a recent large church fire in New York City blocks of granite were displaced through roof beam expansion and distortion, and developed a dangerous situation for the men to face.
Fighting the Fire
Where a church of large size is fully involved with fire, large streams are absolutely necessary. The high ceiling, the large area of the auditorium, and the intense heat present make necessary the use of streams of great range and volume. While even such large streams cannot penetrate the blind attic, they can at least kill the fire in the main auditorium of the church and leave the work of handling the attic fire to outside lines operated from adjoining structures or from aerial ladders.
The usual procedure is to stretch the first line to the main entrance of the church, using large size nozzle and holder, if necessary, and sweep over the ceiling, and walls of the church. Additional streams preferably from deck guns, operated from windows on the side, will usually reach the bays and aid materially in killing the greater volume of fire.
If windows are provided in the front part of the structure, and if there is no vestibule cutting them off from the auditorium, deck guns again play an important part.
If there is a blind attic, aerial ladders may be raised at once and lines put in operation through the roof, to hold the fire and prevent collapse of roof structure. There is little use in operating on the roof from neighboring structures, unless it has been opened up either by the fire or by the men operating from ladders.
After heavy lines are gotten into operation, and are holding the main, body of the fire, then additional lines may be stretched to the rear of the church building, behind the pipe organ, and in the rooms usually found at the rear.
Additional lines can then follow, in order, into the basement, after ventilation has been provided by opening basement windows on all sides.
After such assignments have been made, and fire is being held, then lines may work in close into building and get streams into operation in concealed spaces such as plaster partitions and other furred-in spaces.
Avoid Unnecessary Damage
Incidentally, vestments, altars and statuary are very expensive, f ixed marble work, and stained glass windows, also represent large investments. Unnecessary damage should be avoided when operating in the neighborhood of such objects, for in this way the salvage may be increased tremendously at comparatively little effort.
In high church structures, provided with o|>enings in the walls such as stained glass windows, water towers may sometimes be used with effect.
Officers in charge of a church fire must take particular care to protect men against falling slate shingles, masonry work, and on the inside of the building, falling ceilings and roofs.
Church fires are devoid of poisonous fumes, which make the operation a little simpler than some industrial fires.
However, the nature of construction of the average church building produces a fast burning fire with plenty of heat and smoke, which adds considerably to the discomfort of the men operating at such a fire.