FIRE ENGINES IN PHILADELPHIA.
One newspaper in Philadelphia has criticized the rotary fire engines used in the fire department of that city and insisted that none but piston engines should be used in the future. The matter was brought before the common council and a resolution adopted that, in view of recent complaints that rotary engines are not the kind of engines that should be used where there are high buildings and the statement that in all large cities the piston type of engine is used, the finance committee should make an investigation as to which of the two is the better type of engine for the city’s fire department to use before any appropriation is made by councils for new apparatus. In the discussion which followed it was pointed out that the fact that the firemen last week had kept the Dobson fire within the walls of the building in which it started was enough to show that there is no inefficiency in either men or apparatus. Three members, however,two of whom had themselves been members of the fire department and one claiming to be a mechanic, avowed themselves as upholders of the opinion that the city would profit by the investigation and that the rotary engine is not so good as the piston.
It appears that in Philadelphia the rotary type of engine was adopted for the city fire department several years ago and that the piston type, which was then in use, was gradually retired from the service. No complaint has been made to Director Riter by the insurance people as to the inefficiency of the present type—and they would have beenlhe first to complain, if there had been good cause. He believes the engines now in use to be better adapted to all purposes than any other. It would take a long time to make a change, and. so far as he knows, there is no reason for making one. Chief Engineer Baxter, when spoken to on the subject, sa’d that he had fortyone rotary engines and five piston engines in service. Of the piston engines. Nos. 4 and 36 are the La France. No. t6 the Amoskeag and Nos. 12 and 44 are the Knowlton, made by Campbell Sc Ricketts. They were the first in use. There were then manv of them; but they have been disposed of. Six of those old engines, now out of service, are kept to pump out cellars and for “washing down bricks” after a fire. When steam fire engines were introduced there were a great many patterns in the department, and it made it difficult to keep up repairs With but one type it is a simple matter. Speaking of delays in getting engines into service, he said it was never the fault of the engines. They left the stations with hot water in the boilers and were always ready for service as soon as water connections could be made. So far as he had been able to discover, there was no difference in keeping the two types of engines in good repair. In some resoects he believed the. rotary type to be the better, as he had. as in the case of the fire at the Ledger building, been able to pump out the cellar easily at a depth of twenty-six feet.
These engines were adopted after a competitive test at Broad and Arch streets, where they threw water over the spire of the First Baptist church. They were worked for twentyfour consecutive hours. At that time his recollection was that committee on tests was composed of William Sellers, Jacob Naylor.and James Moore, who gave the engines as severe a test as engines were ever put to. The engines were to pump 740 gallons of water a minute. Mr. Sellers had a tank made holding 900 gallons, and the rotarv filled it in a little more than a minute. They also strung 3,000 feet of hose twice round the square and played through it. Speaking of the hose stream in front of the Dobson building at the recent fire, he said it was made by combining the hose from the piston La France, at Ninth and Chestnut, with the hose from rotary No. 32. »t Eighth and Chestnut—siamesing the streams. He added that the department is getting excellent service from the the present style of apparatus, and said that at one fire he had a rotary engine at work that made a direct lift of twenty-six feet, while another of a piston type could not lift more than from fifteen to twenty feet.
Capt. Stillman,of the fire patrol, representing the insurance interests, said there is no great difference in the two types of engines, so far as efficiency is concerned He has in his station the first steam tire engine the city ever owned, the piston type, whicn he has out occasionally to pump out cellars. It Is good yet. He was famiUr with the tests at Broad and Arch streets, and said the Silshy rotary engine that made it is now at No. i8*s house at Nineteenth and Callowhill, and able to do the same thing again. At that time, after playing through 3,000 feet of hose.it sent a stream 125 feet from the nozzle.
The President of the Fire Association of Philadelphia, in referring to the matter, said:
I think that Chief Baxter understands his business thoroughly and 1 should be disposed to accept the chief’s opinion of the condition of Philadelphia’s fire department in preference to that of any newspaper reporter. It is probable that, if Chief Baxter had more freedom to carry out his individual views, there might be additional improvements made in his department.
On the suggestion of Chief Baxter a test was to be made of the two classes of engines—it is now nine years since such a test was made—on December 22. as follows: (l)—That the engines draw water from separate plugs—their force, height and volume of water be tested; that they likewise be made to draw from th? same plug and the powers tested: (2)—That a test be placed at a point where they have to draw water from the river. (3) — That a test be made with a lead of 500 feet and also a lead of t.500 feet of hose, and that at some part of the exhibition the nozzle be raised to a point in the air as when attending fires in high buildings. Also the weight of both types of engines; also continuous service for five or six hours. The tests,made at plugs at Broad and Spring Garden streets, to be from 10 o’clock a.m. till 1 o’clock p. m. The second test, lifting water from the river, tobeg in as soon as the engines which were of No. 2 size could be taken to the river and continued for two hours. 1’he mayor of the city the members of council, the board of fire underwriters and some newspaper reporters.in addition to a committee of men thoroughly competent to judge, were to be on the spot. The experts chosen by Diiector Riter were; S M. Vauclaim, of the Baldwin Locomotive Works; Coleman Sellers and Clement R. Hoopes, of Hoopes & Townsend, bolt manufacturers. The official results have not yet been published.
Chief Baxter says he is conscious of being chief of one of the best fire bureaus, and he has every confidence in the skill, courage.and intelligence of his men. He is’asanxions to have the best apparatus for their use and their protection as the citizens can have for the property which they protect and save.
In connection with this question it may be added that.while Chief Baxter is receiving much hearty commendation on the manner in which the recent fire in Dobson’s carpet store was bandied, the fact that it took a stream from six different engines to supply the water tower and that much valuable time was lost before the tower was available, has been criticized.