Fire Departments Must Be Brought To Full Strength
Change of Attitude Toward Fire Service on Part of Official Washington Must First be Accomplished
THIS article, which is based on a brief prepared by the Headquarters Office of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, is designed to direct attention to an alarming condition which is developing in the fire defenses of the nation.
In preparing these data, the Association had but one thought in mind— to bring about a reinforcement in the mechanical strength of fire departments which is most imperative at this time.
Fire Losses Increasing
As shown by the table below, fire losses during the three months since the Pearl Harbor attack have increased very rapidly over the corresponding months of the previous year. The figures are made up from estimates of fire losses compiled by the National Board of Fire Underwriters and are based on incurred insurance losses plus an allowance for unreported and uninsured losses. As the Board figures did not include the “Normandie” loss, an estimate of this loss was added to the table.
Defense Industries Are Suffering Real Losses
A large percentage of fires which have occurred in recent months, and particularly since Pearl Harbor, have been in defense industries. And the largest fires have involved manufacturing and materials vital to war preparation.
Defense losses have already been disastrous; increasing numbers of these fires may be expected in the future.
The tabulation following gives but a partial list of defense fires occurring since June 1, 1941.
Effect of Fire Losses on National Defense
A single fire in a vital defense industry might set the nation’s war program back weeks, if not months.
A typical example of what one fire might do was the rubber fire at ball River, Massachusetts. Here 18,000 tons of crude rubber in storage was destroyed. When it is pointed out that an average automobile tire requires but six pounds of crude rubber. the magnitude and implications of this single fire can be appreciated.
The fire in the S. S. “Normandie,” too, serves as another example of calamitous fire losses. This big, fast liner was about ready to go in service as a troopship (with a possible capacity of 25,000 soldiers) when fire put it out of commission—possibly permanently.
The hundreds of defense industry fires that have occurred since the start of the war have not only caused millions of dollars loss in vital war supplies and materials but have set back the defense program to a marked degree.
Every fire loss today is a national loss!
Defense industry destruction is a direct national loss.
The loss of an essential civilian industry is a national loss, for no useful products can be wasted during an all-out war without paying the penalty of shortage, hardship or dissatisfaction.
Destruction of places of human habitation represent a direct national loss. There is today a shortage of building equipment and materials, and the demands of defense housing are increasing rapidly. When a house or apartment burns, there is little or no salvage; and new accommodations must be found, or provided, for the homeless. Furthermore, proper housing is needed to maintain civilian morale.
The destruction of a non-defense industry is a national loss, for a nondefense plant of today will be a defense plant of tomorrow, as the allout war program develops.
The staggering annual fire loss of this nation, totalling $250,000,000 in peacetime, represents a serious drain on national wealth in time of war, when every dollar is needed for war effort. The destruction of vital materials and the fruit of labor and the loss of production and employment are more serious when war demands are so heavy on the resources of the nation.
And that huge total promises to be far greater during this and succeeding years, unless fire departments are tremendously strengthened.
Fire defense is national defense. Unless war munitions factories are enabled to run without interruption, whether due to stoppage of machines or destruction of materials by fire, serious harm may be caused to defense efforts. And no other agency has a greater potentiality for damage than does uncontrolled fire.
Government’s Fire Defense Plans Are Limited in Scope
The Office of Civilian Defense is making emergency fire apparatus and equipment available to some cities. The cities to receive allotments have been selected by theArmy.
They include defense cities and most other large cities lying within 300 miles of the Atlantic or Pacific coasts and within the same distance of the Gulf of Mexico. Cities under 10,000population and many over that size located beyond the defense zones are left out of the plans.
By the very specifications set forth by the Army for participating cities, it is evident that the Army officials had in mind only the protection of these municipalities against air raid fires.
But the great increase in fire losses in war and other industries since Pearl Harbor was not due to enemy air attacks. It was, and will likely continue, to be caused by the following;
- Congestion in plants
- Green workmen
- Deliberate fire setting (sabotage)
And on these grounds either fire equipment should be made available by the O. C. D. to all cities supporting defense or essential industries or else these cities should be granted priority to purchase for themselves such fire apparatus as they sorely need.
Other cities, too, should be enabled to purchase the fire apparatus they need. These would include cities having civilian industries today which will likely be defense industries tomorrow, and cities which serve as bedrooms for neighboring defense cities.
With regard to the latter, they must be kept intact. The government is appropriating huge sums for defense housing; such housing must therefore be vital. And it’s cheaper to buy and maintain fire protection for a city than to rebuild the city. Thus the “bedroom” cities must be permitted to buy fire apparatus.
Air Raid Fires
While no sustained or mass aerial attack by the enemy is anticipated, token or “stunt” attack by planes carrying incendiary bombs is possible and likely.
As a single bomber may cause over a hundred fires, it would be considered profitable by the enemy to sacrifice a few planes in the hope that they might cause spreading fires before landing and surrendering to United States’ forces. Of course, it is assumed that the Axis Powers have no bombers that can cross and recross the ocean with a bomb load.
No Fire Department Can Handle a Multiplicity of Large Fires
No American fire department could handle one hundred simultaneous spreading fires today with its present apparatus.
No fire department in a city of 500,000 population could handle five simultaneous spreading fires.
No fire department in a city of 200,000 population could handle three simultaneous spreading fires.
But with departments, brought up to strength by the addition of modern. powerful apparatus, with adequate hose carrying capacity, they would have a better chance of preventing conflagrations.
Barge defense industries, if involved by threatening fires, require fire engines of great power and discharge capacity.
O. C. D. Pumpers
The O. C. D. furnishes three types of pumpers for fire fighting service:
- Front mounted pump
- Skid pump, with gasoline motor
- Trailer pump
The front mounted pump, a 500 g.p.m. centrifugal pump, is to be furnished cities to be mounted on the front ends of municipal utility or other municipal trucks.
Regarding these units, the Board of Directors of the International Association of Fire Chiefs in a communication to the O. C. D. recently stated:
“It is felt that the provision of front drive pumps to be attached to municipal utility and other trucks of doubtful operating condition is open to question. It is the opinion of the Board that if front drive pumps are supplied, they should be incorporated as part of units of new commercial chassis of proper power, if it is at all possible for the Government to secure and supply these machines.”
The skid pump, on the other hand, is equipped with a new gasoline motor capable of driving the pump at capacity. Its one serious drawback is its weight—1400 pounds.
It is supposed to be carried on a municipal utility or other municipal truck when transported for use.
But there are few, if any, cities having spare trucks to carry these units alone, so the units would have to be loaded on the trucks each time they were needed—if the trucks were on hand when the call came. The time element in loading the heavy unit is a serious factor.
The trailer pump, though weighing over 3000 pounds, should prove satisfactory for the purpose for which provided—air raid protection. Consisting of pump and motor, it is reliable in operation.
But all three of these units are intended for air raid or other emergency incident to war and are not to be called into use except in such emergencies.
Departments Must Be Brought to Full Strength
The regular municipal fire apparatus, on the other hand, must continue to serve day in and day out. and must serve as the sole basis of fire protection except during air raids or other war emergencies. Therefore, municipal fire departments must be kept up to full mechanical strength. And in this connection, the United States Office of Civilian Defense, in a pamphlet titled “Fire Defense Organization” states:—“No municipality or local Defense Council should delay even a day in bringing the regular fire department up to full peacetime strength. Most effective use of the auxiliary force can only be made if the regular department has the full complement of men and equipment.”
Motor fire apparatus builders are not taxed to capacity today. In fact, they are operating at not more than 75% capacity, so that the manufacture of the needed fire trucks could be carried out without difficulty.
Critical Materials Shortage Held Cause of Fire Apparatus Restrictions
Shortage of critical materials, and especially rubber, is generally held as the reason for restrictions now being applied to the procurement by municipalities of fire apparatus
But granting priorities to cities for purchase of needed equipment would not represent an appreciable increase in the demand for these materials over that required for O. C. D. engines.
Take rubber, for example. Whether the tires are on municipal utility trucks or are on fire apparatus, there is an equal wearing away of rubber per mile traveled if trucks are of like weight. Where skid pumps are employed. the utility truck may not be sufficiently large in body or weight capacity to carry both unit and hose. In such case the hose will have to be carried in a separate truck. In this instance the wear on eight tires will total more rubber than on the six tires of a four-wheel fire truck.
As tar as other critical materials are concerned, more are required for a skid pump and motor, a truck to haul the unit, and a truck to transport hose, personnel and equipment than for a complete fire truck.
Rubber Demand for Fire Apparatus
From a nationwide survey recently made by FIRE ENGINEERING, it is estimated that 2,000 completely equipped fire trucks would be needed during the next twelve months to replace obsolete and unserviceable apparatus and bring the Fire Service of the nation up to full strength mechanically.
Allowing 150 pounds of crude rubber per set of six tires, 150 tons of crude rubber is all that would he needed for the 2,000 fire trucks.
If four-wheel fire trucks are purchased, 100 tons of crude rubber would be needed for the 2,000 units.
In either case, it is a mighty small premium to pay for insurance against disastrous fire!
18,000 tons of crude rubber was destroyed in a single fire in Fall River last Fall; 1,000 tons of scrap rubber was destroyed in a fire at Akron, Ohio, last Spring.
Many garages have burned during the past year, destroying thousands of serviceable tires.
Strengthened fire protection will save far more rubber and other critical materials than would be needed in the production of all the apparatus required to modernize all fire departments from coast to coast.
There are no priorities on fires! They will continue to occur; but proper fire protection can minimize the losses.
The Only Defense Against Spreading Fires
For big fires, which are threatening to spread, the only defense is plenty of capable fire engines—but which are at hand and are ready to work without the delay incident to bringing them from neighbors.
Recent Fires Resulting in the Destruction of Rubber
There is not a Fire Chief in this country today who is not aware of the need of additional apparatus if a large number of simultaneous fires should take place, or if there is a large spreading fire on hand.
Why, then, are not fire departments up to strength today? it may be asked.
The answer is simple. Since 1929 most cities have been hard pressed financially, and have repeatedly set aside recommendations of their Fire Chiefs for new fire apparatus, due to lack of funds. Apparatus in service became older; no replacements were made, and the situation became progressively worse until, at the time of our entrance into the war, fire department strength was at low ebb.
Number of Pieces of Motor Fire Apparatus Delivered by Builders to Fire Departments per Year
(From Reports of Shipments, Fire Extinguishing Equipment, Dept, of Commerce, Bureau of the Census
* Beased on deliveries of first six months of year, as reported by the Department of Commerce.
With the threat of enemy attack, there was a frantic rush to secure sorely needed replacements in fire apparatus; priorities made this impossible in most cases, and the situation today is critical.
All-Out War Effort Demands All-Out Fire Protection!
In the nation’s efforts for all-out war preparation, there must be no interruption in production: there must be no destruction of vital mate- rials and machines. Fires must be checked before they reach large proportions.
Peacetime fire fighting facilities cannot handle wartime fires. The tremendous program of production, shipment and storage of military supplies demands greatly augmented fire protection equipment.
Today, fire defense is national defense.
Restriction of Apparatus Manufacture Endangers War Production Program
There can be no restriction on production of fire fighting machines without the risk of disastrous fires. The Fire Service must be brought up to full strength!
It is because the International Association of Fire Chiefs is fully aware of the grave problem of fire defense, and the deplorably weak condition of many American fire departments today, that they strongly urge the easing of priority restrictions on the purchase of fire apparatus so that prompt procurement of vitally needed fire fighting machines can be attained.
Fire Sweeps Department Store
A spectacular early morning six alarm fire which raged for over four hours in the high value business section of East Liberty. Pittsburgh, Pa., swept through the building of the Schulte-United a Junior Department Store, and for a time threatened to spread to the adjoining structures of the F. W. Woolworth Company 5 & 10 cent store and the new C. G. Murphy Company 5 and 10 cent store, before it was brought under control after a bard desperate battle in heavy clouds of stifling acrid smoke by eighteen fire companies called on six alarms and a special call, which were sounded on quick succession following the discovery of the fire.
The fire which originated in the basement of the Schulte-United Store, from some cause unknown. was first discovered shortly after 8:00 A.M., by W. H. Watson. Assistant Manager of the F. W. Woolworth Co.’s store, who telephoned the alarm to the Central Fire Alarm Office. At 8:18 A.M., following the telephone call Engine Company No. 8 and Truck 8 were sent on a “Still Alarm” to the Schulte store.
Immediately after their arrival Captain Ralph Longmore of Engine Company No. 8 had one of his men turn in the first alarm from the street box at 8:21 A.M., which brought the rest of the first alarm assignment, Engine Companies 16 and 28 and Battalion Chief, James T. Coslett of the Third Battalion.
The entire basement of the Schulte building was a raging furnace from end to end, and the flames rapidly spreading to the first floor, when the first alarm Companies arrived and broke into the building, proving that the fire evidently bad been smouldering for a long while before breaking out in all its fury.
Chief Coslett immediately sent in the second alarm at 8:24 A.M., which was followed by the third at 8:27, the fourth at 8:34, the fifth at 8:36, a special at 8:45 and the sixth alarm at 8:59 A M., the six alarms and the special call, bringing in all, fifteen engine companies; one squad company and two truck companies; with a fire fighting force of ninety firemen, including Chief of Department, Edward J. Kerr and Senior Battalion Chief, John J. Moroney, both of whom responded on the second alarm; and twenty-one pieces of motor apparatus. five 1000 gallon pumpers, nine 750 gallon pumpers and one 350 gallon pumper, one deluge combination water tower and turret wagon, two combination hose and turret wagons, a squad wagon and two 75-foot aerials.
Under the direction of Chief of Department, Edward Kerr and his Chief Officers, the firemen fought the stubborn smoky fire from the ground, from aerial and ground ladders, from the fire escape on Kirkwood Street, from the interior of the building as well as from the roofs of adjoining structures. With no entrance of anv kind to the basement from the front or rear of the building and no dead lights in the sidewalk, the firemen found themselves up against a hard job in reaching the seat of the fire.
In controlling and extinguishing the fire, the tire-fighters used seventeen powerful streams, which included two 1 1/2-inch multiversal streams, one in front of the building and one in the rear; one 1 3/4-inch tower stream and two 1 7/16-inch deck turret streams from the combination water tower and turret wagon in front of the burning building, with fifteen pumpers supplying the pressure through 13,000 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose. Also used were 582 feet of ladders and 350 feet of 1-inch lead line hose.
During the hard battle by the firemen, which lasted most of the day, very little flame was visible from the street through the great clouds of smoke that rolled from the building for hours and carried for squares by a brisk wind.