Fire Detection

Fire Detection

THE very soul of any movement to prevent loss of life and property by fire, lies in that instrument, be it human or mechanical, which will “detect” fire or fire condition at its inception, jet how little is heard of the art of fire “detection.”

Whereas the automatic sprinkler does just this thing and more, (it puts fire out), yet for various reasons, generally predicated by the matter of expense, it is frequently considered inexpedient to install them.

Mr. Elenry A. Fisk, in his address at a joint meeting of the Fire Protection Committee of the American Society of Safety Engineers and the New York Chapter of N. F. P. A. at New York City, Dec. 17, 1920, which was published in the January number of The FIRE ENGINEER, very thoroughly covers the element of value of the automatic sprinkler in this matter of ‘‘Fire Detection.”

These comparatively few words on fire DETECTION are intended to stimulate action in the art of Fire “DETECTION” in fields not covered by the sprinkler.

The following newspaper articles appeared in local papers of recent date and are offered simply to illustrate what can be seen daily:

“Miss.discovered the fire. She saw flames in the drug store of.and sent in an alarm.”

Seven buildings were destroyed by this fire, in a little town of only 2,000 inhabitants.

“$200,000.00 blase destroys store. Woman and child were saved from burning building in Bayonne, N. J. The place was a mass of flames when the fire was discovered.”

These notices appeared in the same issue. Ninety percent of such notices will read “cause unknown”— discovered “by a passerby.” “The patrolman on the beat sent in an alarm,” etc., etc. All meaning that the fire was not discovered at its inception, and it got beyond control before it was discovered and extinguishing equipment available.

What can be said that will arouse the public mind, fire prevention and safety organizations, to a point of action in supporting efforts that would make the matter of fire “DETECTION” one of the chief objectives in the whole scheme of preventing fire losses?

It could be urged that the N. F. P. A. or some other organizations interested in fire protection should establish a department or division for the purpose of exploiting the art of fire “DETECTION” also to make a study of devices that will automatically detect fire or fire conditions.

The basic idea of detecting fire automatically is a sound one. Persistency of effort along this line has already brought a few commendable devices on the market in commercial form, yet the courage of the person who would exploit an automatic fire detecting device must be good, to face and surmount the difficulties surrounding the commercial introduction of such a device.

The numerous inventors of Automatic Eire Detecting devices, as a rule, are not intimately informed as to the requirement of such devices, necessary to fit into the existing rules of the Fire Underwriters governing the use of such apparatus, or of the difficulties of changing such rules to meet the conditions that would permit such devices being made an effective part in the general scheme of fire protection.

The Underwriters undoubtedly have reason for “holding back” on automatic fire alarm devices owing to the usual unreliability in action of such device.

There is an absolute necessity for good automatic fire alarm devices. Nothing but automatic detecting can strike the basic cause of the excessive fire losses in the United States. Manual systems are good where fires are seen at their inception. Up to date signal and extinguishing devices, usually, will dispose of such fires promptly.

When fire is not discovered at its inception it usually gains headway very rapidly and gets beyond control of first aid extinguishing devices, in which case it results in the local signal and extinguishing equipment being destroyed or disabled.

These are such simple facts that it seems hardly worth while to mention them, yet the occurrences are so numerous and loss of life and property so dumbfounding because of them, they must be reiterated and continually so, until something definite is recognized to meet the situation.

All influences now actively interested in the conservation of life and property against fire loss could, with reason and benefit to this situation, lend a part of their energy to solving the problems of fire “DETECTION.”

It would mean much to the public to have a reliable means of automatically detecting fire in its earliest stage, and to have same fitted into the existing rules, or have rules to fit the common sense requirements of such a device, in which case, a great forward step toward reducing a national waste would be taken.

Detecting fire by automatic means is of little value unless provisions are made for quick response of some extinguishing agency. Herein lies the greatest difficulty in the development of a reasonably durable and reliable automatic system, as there is much lacking in this respect.

Whereas those who have learned by experience to fear fire, would possibly grasp the benefit to be derived from automatic fire detection, without regard to rules or regulations, the average manufacturer or merchant would he governed largely by the amount of “credit” or reduction lie could secure on his insurance premium because of the installation of an automatic device on his premises.

Practically no “credits” are allowed today by under writers on what is called “local system,” and, whereas credits are provided for in connection with “approved” automatic detecting devices, when connected with Cen tral Station Service, their use in this connection is necessarily limited to the larger cities where sufficient business is available to warrant the expense necessary in maintaining such a service.

This leaves practically an unlimited field without Central Station Service or substitutes for same. Changes and modifications of existing rules will be necessary if full benefit of automatic devices are to be obtained in this unoccupied field.

The difficulties surrounding the changing of rules or practice of the underwriters can be best understood by these familiar with the gigantic proportions cf this great institution.

Many years have been consumed in harmonizing the national, state, and municipal elements bearing on insurance matters and the intricate and delicate situation continually arising between the insurance companies themselves.

The ramification and diversity of the great interests involved in such organizations are such that it is most difficult to add to or to change an existing rule for the benefit of one interest without injury to some other.

It is obviously not a pleasant task to attempt to change “the rules” yet the benefits to be derived from automatic fire detection are so great and apparent, that the public is entitled to such adjustment of existing conditions as may be necessary to make such benefits available to the public.

The burden of effort and expense of such work is too great for the average manufacturer to assume. Such a work is clearly within the scope of purpose of such organizations as the N. F. P. A.

The Underwriters’ Laboratories have within the past few years “approved” several automatic fire detecting devices of various types, possibly none are “perfect.” However, such “approvals” have shown the intention of the Laboratories to do its part in the development of this most important element in fire protection.

W hen fire can be detected automatically, and present day extinguishing devices are made immediately avail able in all their resources, the rate of fire loss per capita in the United States will fall to a point below our most sanguine expectations.

Nothing stated herein is intended to detract in the least part from the great and important work on “fire protection” already done in a hundred and more differ ent directions.

The purpose herein is to direct attention to a field poorly cultivated, where encouraging results would be obtained with moderate expenditure of effort.

Let the art of “Fire Detection” represent such field, and all who are interested in reducing our national fire loss, supply the effort.

Next to “Lire Prevention” let Lire “DETECTION” be THE WORD prominently heard throughout the great movement of conserving life and property against the ravages of fire.

Fire Detection.


Fire Detection.

The most important clement in connection with the extinguishment of fires is that of time. A spark detected may prevent a conflagration. A prominent authority in fire matters says that “the first five minutes at a fire are worth the next five hours.” Nothing can be truer than this. A fire discovered in its incipiency is readily extinguished, which if left to smolder and burn in secret, becomes an uncontrollable conflagration. The destruction of the Southern hotel at St. Louis was a remarkable instance of this. There the fire originated in the basement, and is supposed to have been burning for hours, undetected, until it obtained a headway that could not be stayed, and which resulted in the loss of the hotel and several lives. Chief Saxton, of St. Louis, one of the most capable Chiefs in the service, remarked, regarding this fire, “ tell me promptly where a fire has started and I’ll put it out or quit the business.” It therefore behooves us to adopt those methods for fire detection which will, in the speediest possible manner, bring to the scene those approved appliances for fire extinguishment which modern ingenuity has devised. The Fire Alarm Telegraph has done much to j secure this end. By its means the Firemen i can be summoned instantly when a fire has been discovered. But it still requires the inI tervention of human agency to set it in operj ation. Human agency must discover the existence of fire before its location can be designated by the alarm system. In the case of the Southern hotel, hours elapsed before such discovery was made and the alarm j given.

The question then is, cannot we go behind human agency, and make the fire itself reveal its presence at the instant of its oriI gin ? That this can be done has been frequently demonstrated of late by the Automatic Signal Telepraph. This is a system by means of which a number of small, inexpensive instruments, called thermostats, are attached to the ceiling of the various rooms of a building, connecting with an alarm telegraph. If a fire occurs in any room provided with the thermostats, the heat evolved from it causes the metal of the thermostat to expand, thereby completing the electric circuit, and sounding an alarm in the central office wherewith it is connected. Thus fire is made to become its own detector, and does not wait for human agencies to declare its presence. Only last week a fire got started in the basement of the immense publishing house of the Appleton’s, on Broadway. The thermostats sent out the warning signal, the Firemen hastened to the locality only to find that the fire had been extinguished by the employes of the firm, who were present when the fire started, and used the means at hand for calling the Fire Department, but the Automatic outstripped them in the race and sounded the first alarm. This system is rapidly coming into use in our large manufacturing establishments as well as in the places of business of our extensive jobbers and dealers. In what is known as the “ dry goods district ” in this city, where immense buildings are stored with costly goods, the Automatic alarm system is generally used. In the dry goods palace of H. B. Claflin & Company, and many others, every room in the building is supplied with thermostats, connected by wire with the central office, by means of which the Insurance Patrol and the Fire Department are summoned instantaneously in case of a fire.

Statistics show that between May i, 1874, and January 1, 1877, the losses paid for fires which originated in buildings equipped with the Automatic, all of which were detected, and signaled automatically, amounted to 5.64 per cent of the amount of insurance, while during the same time the losses paid for fires originating in buildings not equipped with the Automatic amounted to 19.17 per cent of the amount of insurance. No wonder Insurance companies recommend the Automatic. It is invaluable in all large buildings, and eventually will be found in every mill, factory’ and work shop in the country. This system of private detection will not, of course, dispense with the Fire Alarm Telegraph as a public necessity, but will enable private enterprise to supplement the public fire service, and add to its efficiency. The telegraph, thus applied becomes a watchman who is ever present, who never sleeps, and whom no human frailty can overcome. It is ever vigilant, ever trustworthy, makes no mistakes and cannot be misunderstood. The automatic system is simple in its construction, inexpensive in its application, and invaluable in its service. Gen. Alexander Shaler, for so many years president of our Fire Department, is president of the Automatic Telegraph Company operating in New York and vicinity. His opinion upon fire matters is, from his long connection with the service, exceedingly valuable. He was so impressed with the importance of the Automatic system to the business interests of the country, that he has, lor the past two years, given his entire time to the work of bringing this invention to the notice of our citizens. It is now so well known and appreciated in this city that words of ours can scarcely add to its popularity. Our purpose in thus eulogizing the Automatic system is to bring it to the attention of those persons who have the care of large buildings, and to commend it to their consideration. The office of the company is at No. 294 Broadway, where full information regarding the system will be cheerfully furnished.