FIRE DEPARTMENT OF PONCE, PORTO RICO.
(BY JOHN J. GILHULEY, ACTING ASSISTANT SURGEON, U. S A.)
In last week’s issue of FIRE AND WATER was given a cut of the only fire house at Ponce, Porto Rico. It is reproduced this week in connection with the annexed letter, which reached this office just too late for publication. The letter, which was specially written for FIRE AND WATER, is as follows:
U. S. MILITARY GENERAL HOSPITAL,
SAN JUAN, PORTO RICO, November 24, 1898.
To the Editor:
Being an enthusiast on fire matters, it was with the greatest interest, upon my arrival at Ponce, P.R., two months ago, that I visited fire department headquarters and spent several hours in conversation with the native firemen. It might also be interesting to the firemen of America to know how the Porto Ricans fight fires,and, if you will allow me the privilege of a small space in your popular and valuable paper, I shad be able to reach all the firemen in America.
Ponce, although a city of 40,000 inhabitants, boasts of but one fire engine house, which is located in the centre of the city, on the Plaza, or public park. It is a two-story, fifty by thirty, frame structure, both exterior and interior being fancifully decorated. As the thermometer never falls below seventy degrees, doors are unnecessary, which fact ought to facilitate matters in turning out.
The ground, or apparatus floor is very crowded, having six pieces of apparatus, consisting of an old regulation truck, the longest ladder being a thirty-foot extension, three oldfashioned hand engines, and two antique jumpers. A journey to a backwoods town would be necessary to find the duplicates of these apparatus in service in the States. It was with considerable satisfaction, however, upon examination, to find the name of an American maker, Rumsey, Seneca Falls, N. Y., on all the apparatus, except on one old English hand engine which has been in service over fifty years.
As the buildings here are almost entirely two-story affairs, aerial trucks are unnecessary ; and, the water pressure being good, hand engines answer the purpose very well. Modern fire engines have been tried ; but, on account of the expense in maintaining men and horses to man them, they were abandoned. The old style leather hose is used, as the extreme heat of this climate so affects the rubber lining in the wet hose, as to render it unfit for use, after a short time.
The fire department of Ponce consists of five companies, three white and two colored, numbering in all over 300 men.
It is an entirely volunteer department ; but I doubt if any volunteer department in the United States does as much work or receives as many privileges and benefits in return as the department in Ponce. If a member of the department is guilty of any minor crime, he is not humiliated by being confined in the^city jail, but is kept under guard in the engine house. If a member is taken sick or injured, he receives medical attendance and medicine, free of charge. The only band in town is composed of members of the fire department If a member of the department dies, the band and entire department attend the funeral. This is considered to be the greatest honor possible to be conferred upon a citizen. The family of the deceased is provided for by the city.
The method of sounding an alarm of fire is indeed very unique. The city is divided into seven districts, which are patroled night and day. Each fireman on patrol duty carries a bugle and an axe. He also wears the regulation red shirt. The bugles of the different districts have a different tone or note. When a fire is discovered, the patrolman “ blows himself the other patrolmen in his district take it up ; and these particular sounding bugles, being heard by the patrolman stationed in front of the engine house, indicate in which district the fire is located.
The companies alternate for patrol duty every month. In an incredibly short time the firemen arrive and get the machines under way.
The greatest excitement prevails when an alarm of fire is sounded. Men, women, and children block the streets. Every body tries to make as much noise as possible, and the scene is one never to be forgotten. The companies vie with each other in getting to the fire first—the same rivalry existing which exists in the States.
Shortly before troops were landed in Ponce and before the Spaniards evacuated, many criminals were liberated from the jail. The policemen had been discharged, and the greatest terror prevailed among the citizens. 1 hreats were made to burn the houses of the American sympathizers. It was at this time that the firemen showed their bravery—the same bravery which characterizes a fiieman, whether he is an American, Porto Rican, or African.
For weeks the entire department gave up work, patroled the streets, performed police duty, and saved life and property.
T hope I have not taken up too much space in your paper, and that this story, although hurriedly written, may prove
interesting. JOHN J. GILHULEY,
Acting Assistant Surgeon, U. S. A.
PONCE, P. R., Nov. 28, 1898.