An Interview with Former Chief Abner P. Leshure, of Springfield, Mass.

To every fireman of the old school, and those less advanced in years who have taken the pains to familiarize themselves with modern fire-fighting methods, the name of Abner P. Leshure is familiar. Being the most advanced student of the power of fire streams and hydraulics up to the present, and the author of one of the most useful text books on friction losses in fire hose and water mains, whatever he may have to say in relation to fire department affairs should be of interest to firemen everywhere. Chief Leshure, who is about 83 years of age, was for many years the head of the fire department at Springfield, Mass., and later was made inspector of buildings in that city, a position which he still holds. While in this city recently Chief Leshure related offhand many incidents in connection with past conventions of the International Association of hire Engineers, which will doubtless prove interesting to the members of that organization :


Chief Leshure was born in Woodstock, Conn., in 1828, where he received a public school education. There were no public high schools in those days, but being determined to push his education, he joined a private high school, and so prepared himself for a commercial position. After leaving school he engaged in various occupations, and in 1847 he became a member of the town fire company of Webster, Mass. This company was composed of the principal young men of the place, and it turned out to be a very popular and effective organization. After this experience he went to Springfield in 1852 and joined its lire department in 1854. It was a volunteer organization, consisting of five companies, two of which belonged to the United States army, one to the Boston & Webster Railroad and the remaining two were maintained by the city. There was also a small hook and ladder company in service at the time. Springfield in 1854 had a population of about 12,000 and received its water supply from a brook which flowed through the main street of the city. When Chief Leshure became a member of Cataract Engine Company No. 2 each company was equipped with 500 feet of leather, copper-riveted hose, manufactured by Boyd Brothers, of Boston; Samuel Eastman & Co., Concord, N. 11.; and Yates & Son, of Lowell. In small places in those days the hand engine was called a “tub” because it was placed as near as possible to the fire and the men fighting it stood on top of the tub, using a ⅞-ineh nozzle, while a few men pumped the water fed to it with buckets. In order to supply the tub with water a line was formed and the buckets were passed down one side empty to the source of supply and then passed hack filled up the other side, so that a chainless supply of buckets was formed from the source to the tub. There was also a law existing by which every householder was obliged to have a fire bucket, and when a fire alarm was given he had to take it and help to supply the engine. These buckets were usually kept in the halls of the houses so as to be convenient at short notice. The use of tub engines was before the subject of this sketch moved to Springfield. The service in the latter place was furnished with engines of improved style, with a suction as well as a discharge pipe and leading hose of leather. Fifty men constituted a Springfield engine company, and they were able to throw a stream from a one-inch nozzle as far as 150 feet. Instead of the insurance patrol of the present day there were protection companies in existence which were called “sack and bucket” companies. They were equipped with canvas sacks, in which any goods that could be saved were placed to protect them from water or fire, and buckets to assist in putting out incipient blazes. These companies consisted mostly of business men, who furnished their own wagons, some of which were of a very expensive kind. The members took great pride in their branch of the fire service, and some of their carriages were finely decorated, costing as high as a thousand dollars each, and in one case a very handsome wagon was purchased for $3,000. The same system generally prevailed in Eastern cities at that time. No change was made in this equipment until Springfield in 18(!1 made an addition to its service of steam fire engines. These machines, built in Manchester, N. H., were what are known to-day as the “Amoskeag” make, and they could be drawn by either hand or horses. Three of these steamers were bought, one of which belonged to the city, another to the Government and the other to the railroad company, but all were available for work at fires in the city.



By this time Chief Leshure had been promoted to foreman of an engine company, and shortly after was elected to the Board of Fire Engineers. In 1862 William M. Tweed, then political boss of New York City and foreman of Big Six Company, called “Tiger Six,” and the members of the company made an excursion from New York to Montreal, Quebec, and thence to Boston. While in Quebec Mr. Tweed wrote a letter to Commissioner Leshure stating that he and his company would arrive in Springfield on a certain date, and requested an escort to visit the United States Armory. The New York volunteers arrived about two o’clock in the afternoon, accompanied by Dodsworth’s celebrated band, and were received at the depot by the whole fire department of the city of Springfield, headed by George Dwight, then chief engineer. Mr. Leshure, besides serving on the fire board, was captain of No. 2 Engine Company. When, after the formalities had been gone through, Captain Tweed requested that Captain Leshure be his escort during his stay in Springfield, and thus these two men fraternized while the New York volunteers were in the latter city. The New York firemen left the city in the afternoon and reached New York in time for a celebration consisting of a torchlight parade and reception, hailing Tweed’s return like that of a victorious commander. Great crowds joined the procession and he was escorted through the streets with bands of music. During the same year a number of volunteers belonging to Engine Company No. 29 of New York, headed bv Chief Eli Bates, also made a visit to Springfield and were received with the same honors. Chief Leshure says that the first great improvement in fire apparatus was made when steam was substituted for manual work. The first steam engine was introduced by Latta. of Cincinnati, but steamers found much opposition among volunteers, and it was with difficulty that the steamers were gradually forced into service from time to time, thus taking the place of the hand pumping engines. This was in the year 1862. The Latta engine, which was built previous to that year, was a three-wheeled machine and was drawn by four horses. It created quite a sensation in Springfield when first shown, but gradually it was improved until the present modern fire engine was constructed.


Abner Leshure was appointed chief of the Springfield department in 1870, and after serving one year in that capacity he went to Boston and started in the provision business, lie was there during the time of the great conflagration of 1872, was all over the ground covered by this big fire, and his experiences at the time showed that small streams of water from engines were of little avail, as they never reached the heart of the fire, and to this may be attributed the enormous loss of property and lives on that occasion. The fire practically burnt itself out, only being stopped on the south side by the rear walls of different buildings in which there were no windows for the flames to catch hold, and eventually they died out. Engines from all parts of New England and New York were dispatched to the scene, but were of little use until the w-orst part of the fire was over, when they could be brought close enough to throw effective streams. Siamese streams were not practised at this particular time; otherwise much of the property might have been saved. The great fire of Chicago in 1871 came as a great surprise to the department of that city, as no such conflagration was thought possible at the time. This fire proved an incentive to other departments to immediately prepare for similar catastrophes, and it had much to do with the improvement in the fire service all over the country. A fund was raised in Boston for the relief of the Chicago firemen sufferers, and Chief Damrell, of the Boston department, was selected to take the amount collected to Chicago. Upon his return he stated that he did not think it possible that such a fire could occur in Boston, but one year later, as mentioned before, the great business section of “The Hub” was wiped out of existence, causing a loss of $80,000,000. At this fire, it will be remembered, that owing to the epizootic disease prevailing among the horses of the department the apparatus had to be drawn byhand to the scene of the fire. A witness of the conflagration stated at the time that this sickness among the fire horses of Boston had cost the city one million dollars for every horse incapacitated.


Chief Leshure left Boston in 1873 and returned to Springfield, where he rejoined the department. He was again elected chief engineer in 1874, and remained in that position continuously for twentyyears. He immediately joined the National Association of Fire Chiefs and attended his first convention in St. Louis in 1874. This was the second convention of the association, and Chief Leshure was present at every convention for twenty-two years thereafter without a break. He recalls that the most important subject discussed at the St. Louis convention of the chiefs’ association in 1874 was the installation of standpipes inside of buildings. The subject proved so interesting that a great many of the members present who lived in the large cities throughout the country argued about the necessity for placing standpipes outside as well as inside of commercial buildings, so that from that time on it may be said an impetus was given the equipping of buildings, both inside and out, with standpipes. In this discussion Chief Leshure took an active part and related his experiences based on a study of the question of fire protection and the production of large streams of water. The Board of Fire Engineers were members of the fire department of Springfield, and Chief Leshure served four years on it. At that time a regular waterworks system was constructed by bringing water from the Ludlow reservoir, an original lake ten and a half miles from the armory, through a 24-inch cement-lined pipe. The distribution was only partly constructed when, on May 30, 1875, the great Springfield conflagration broke out in Main street. There was no water main running through this district, the nearest one being a 10-inch cast iron pipe laid 1,500 feet away on Dwight street. Being thus handicapped the tire department had to call for aid from other cities and had to fall back on the old cistern which had been used for tire service in the old volunteer days. This supply and the meager apparatus on hand proved insufficient, consequently the tire spread until at one time sixty buildings were in flames. Relief was sent from all the neighboring cities, including Hartford. Holyoke and Westfield. The engines from these places took suction from the cistern, but owing to the hold the fire had upon the buildings it was impossible to stop it until all the property involved was destroyed. The loss was estimated at about half a million dollars, which was a great loss in tfTose days.


At the convention held in Fireman’s Hall, New York, in 187.J, the principal subject under discussion was uniform threads for hose couplings. All kinds of ideas were given and devices submitted, but none of them was practical enough to be adopted. At this convention a new coupling was shown which was made by Charles Hovey, of Springfield. It was worked with a spring thread which adjusted itself to any kind of thread, coarse or fine. The question of relief valves i steam lire engines was also considered, and a very lengthy discussion on the subject ensued. The relief valve was intended to relieve the hose from sudden water hammer caused by the sudden closing of the flow of water from the engine. Several devices were also shown for the first time, and a thorough explanation of them given. Had the New York convention done no more than considered these two important questions it would have accomplished a great deal, but there were also a number of other subjects relating to fire protection of much consequence which received attention. It is worthy of note as showing the reticence of Chief Bates, of New ork City, that when he was elected president lie refused to serve, and Chief Hendricks, of New Haven, was elected in his place. It was during this year that the introduction of an extension ladder was made by an Italian woman named Mme. Uda, who had just arrived in this country from Italy. She brought with her a sectional ladder which could be extended in sections to 125 feet. She met Chiefs Johnson, of Philadelphia; Bates, of New York ; Green, of Boston, anti other prominent authorities upon fire protection, who were much impressed with the exhibition given of tbe new type of ladder. A test of it was given in City Hall Square, New York, during which Battalion Chief Phil Nash and several other firemen were killed. Nevertheless, this was the first ladder that led to the adoption of what is now known as aerial ladders. At this test the ladder was erected in sections; each section had to be inserted in a groove and fastened with a bolt and nut. When it was extended Battalion Chief Nash ascended to tbe top. and owing to insufficient weight to maintain it in that position the ladder swayed and broke and the chief was instantly killed with the other firemen who took part in the trial. From this introduction of a sectional ladder started the aerial trucks and ladders in use at the present time.


The 1876 convention was held in Philadelphia. One of the most interesting features of the meeting was a trial of different makes of steam fire engines on the World’s P’air Grounds under the supervision of the World’s Fair Committee, and this committee reported upon the merits or demerits of each engine. The different makes of engines exhibited were the Amoskeag. Ahrens. Silsby, Clapp & Jones and Button. I he tests were so even that it was simply upon the point of steaming capacity and maintenance of power that the award was made. At the t levcland convention, held in 1878, the Siamese connection was exhibited, when a stream from a 2Vi-invh nozzle was thrown vertically over the tower of the City Hall, and from this start the adoption of Siamese for throwing large streams of water may be said to have practically originated. At the chiefs’ convention in Washington, 1). C.. in 1879, Chief Leshure introduced the subject of friction in hose and the discharge of nozzles for fire apparatus, being the first time this subject had been brought to the attention of the fire engineers of the country. A very lively discussion ensued, which showed that the members were greatly interested in the subject, and a request was made that the table be printed for circulation among the members. This was agreed to by the author, and the following year copies of the important work were distributed throughout the fire departments of the country and foreign cities.


At the Cincinnati convention in 1882 Chief Shaw, of the Fire Brigade of London, made an interesting address, and Chief Cronin, of Washington, was one of the prominent speakers on the subject of fire streams. The latter’s remarks were much appreciated, as following along the line of methods used in this country Chief Leshure was called upon to explain Inexperiments in this work, and it was noticed that Captain Shaw showed much appreciation ot tin information given. Upon the conclusion of t hiet Leshure s address Captain Shaw congratulated him and said that he had learned more on the subject of fire streams than at any time during his long experience as a fireman, lie requested that a copy of the book be sent to him, and 1 hief Leshure courteously presented the captain with the original copy as a memento of the occasion. At this meeting an exhibition of throwing a 2*iinch stream horizontally through a three-way Siamese connection, using the -sower of three steamers, was given, and to the amazement of the English fireman a stream of about 250 feet was thrown. Captain Shaw seemed very much pleased with the result, but said lie did not think such streams would ever be needed in his country. However, he paid a particular compliment to Chief Leshure for the valuable tables lie had issued. A Hayes truck was exhibited at this convention, which was extended by a lexer and guided by a patent steering gear on top, and the same ladder of improved make is now built by the American-La France Fire Engine Company. Chris Hoell and his pompier ladder corps also gave an exhibition of the system of climbing with outside ladders, a system which is now in use in all large departments throughout the country. A test was also made of a Hayes ladder. Three or four men ascended to the top of the ladder and it was extended 85 feet. Chris Hoell stood on the top rung while the ladder was swung in different directions, and the inventor said afterwards that he was greatly surprised to sec the test so successfully performed, as the ladder was not constructed for such hard usage. In 1882 the question of using hose wagons instead of hose reels was first considered, and from time to time the subject has been discussed until finally they have been generally adopted. In 188.1 tbe convention was held in New Orleans, and the present head of the fire department, Thomas O’Connor, was elected its president. This was one of the memorable meetings of the association on account of the successful way in which the members were entertained by the city and its chief.


Coming down to the year 1800, when the convention was held in Detroit, the association had grown to be an important body. One of the principal subjects discussed at that time was fire extinguishers. One of the members claimed that ammonia gas could be used as effectively as soda and sulphuric acid in extinguishing fires. i bis led to a very heated discussion and resulted in a motion that the matter be tabled. At this mee’ing the first trussed ladder was exhibited by a Mr Seagrave. The ladder was placed alongside of a high building and filled with men without losing its rigidity. Some of the chiefs being skeptical as to the advisability of this style of ladder, afterwards visited the factory where it was manufactured and subjected it to the severest tests. \ bibno endorsement was given of the ladder at tint time, it gradually grew in favor over the solid construction, and has resulted in its almost general adoption to-tlay. An exhibition of a lire escape was also made, which proved a remarkable invention. It was a spring encased in a metal box which automatically controlled itself by a rope worked on an inside spindle. 1 lie weight of the holder graduated the speed at which the per son descended and alighted. The agent of the invention made several descents safelv from the tallest buildings in Detroit, confirming the ap pl-nnce as a remarkably safe invention.

When in 1861 the convention met in Spring field. Mass., Chief Leshure had arranged one of the most interesting and largest meetings held tin to that time. Owing, however, to the great heat a large number of tests had to be postponed. He had prepared exhibitions of measurement of water under pressure from different sizes and forms of nozzles under different pressures, shouting in a simple manner methods which every man could adopt and find out at home. This, as slated before, had to he postponed on account of the heat. In 181*1 Chief holey, of Milwaukee, \ is. entertained the members of the association At that time the first fireboat of that city had just lwen placed in commission. This meeting was held after a serious fire had taken place in Milwaukee. and much interest xxas taken in going over the burned portion, especially that part where the lire had leaped across a street, leaving a number of houses in the center of the lire un touched. Thomas IV Purcell, of Dublin. Ireland, hire Brigade, was present at this meeting and received a warm welcome litwas. in fact, the “lion’’ of the occasion, and was very much sought after by all the members present on ac count of his genial disposition and the amount of knowledge be seemed to possess on the subject of tire protection. Being a qualified mechanical engineer, 1ns address was of a scientific nature and disclosed the fact that he was not only well informed in his profession, hut a skilled lire engineer. But so far as the entertainment of mem hers at conventions is concerned, Chief Leshure thinks Montreal should lie given the palm, t om missiouer Stevenson, who was very much interested in lire matters and very popular among all the members of the fire service, used fiis best efforts to have the meeting brought to that city in 1894, where as a host lie was very successful. At that time an important change was made in the name of the association from the “National hire Chief’s Association” t•» that of the “International Association of hire Engineers “


The largest convention of the association was held in New York City in 11*02, and Chief Croker, who was then charged hv the commissioner with a breach of the rules of service, was elected presi dent. The display of apparatus at the meeting was the largest and most varied shown up to that time and attracted considerable attention. The tests, too, were 😡 ticeahle for their varied character and success. The searchlight was first brought out at this convention. Chief Thomas P. Purcell, of Dublin, Ireland, was again present and delivered several short addresses on the subject of fire protection. At this convention the turret nozzles were exhibited by the Glazier t om pany. of Indianapolis, as were also roller hearings for the axles of fire apparatus, which since have been generally used on all rolling stock in the lire service.

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