Fire Fighters Go “Piggyback” in Submarine Base Mobilization

Fire Fighters Go “Piggyback” in Submarine Base Mobilization

Piggyback trainload of New Haven County area fire apparatus ready for departure from New Haven R. R. yard. Special flat cars are equipped with connecting bridges to facilitate loading and unloading; fire crews are carried in coaches at end of train

New technique of response by rail feature of Connecticut State Civil Defense test

MORE THAN 3,000 CIVIL DEFENSE workers, over half of them firemen, converged on the U. S. Submarine Base at Groton, Conn., Sunday, May 29, in a test of the mobility of emergency services in an emergency such as might strike any target area in the event of enemy attack, or such as might be required to meet holocausts like those which visited the west coast and more recently, the New England states.

The eastern half of the State of Connecticut was the scene of great activity as the various CD services were called upon to function in their respective fields at numerous minor, local incidents—most of them fires of one type or another— and one a simulated major conflagration. That the fire forces which were called into action provided the dramatic overtones which “stole the show” is no discredit to the other CD services, all of which accredited themselves with plenty of glory.

This account is concerned with the fire control and extinguishing activities which ranged from fighting a simple scrap fire, to one representing a major conflagration necessitating the mobilization of numerous fire units drawn from a wide area.

At the conclusion of the scheduled minor local events which nevertheless engaged scores of fire units throughout the eastern part of the state, practically all of these and other units rendezvoused at the Submarine Base at New London, where they lined up on the waterfront for mass pumping exercises. This detail of the test exercises was known as “Operation Submarine Base.” Under the watchful eyes of civil, military and Civil Defense officials from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the fire forces, teamed with radiological monitoring and mass feeding details, went through their paces.

At the Base, 130 pieces of fire equipment from over 105 fire departments of Connecticut and other states pumped from the Thames River to supply one hundred and five 2 1/2-inch hose streams to form a water curtain approximately a mile long. Some of these units teamed to relay water from Riverside Park in New London to the Base, a distance of approximately two miles. At Groton, 15 pumpers relayed water from the Gold Star Memorial Bridge to the Submarine Base.

New Haven goes “piggyback”

Fifteen units of fire apparatus from New Haven, West Haven, Orange, East Haven, Branford, North Haven, Ansonia, Middlebury, Woodbury, Cheshire, Bethany, Hamden and Milford, all in the New Haven County area, were dispatched from the City of New Haven to the New London yards of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad by piggyback train. This is said to mark the first such large-scale movement of fire apparatus by rail. The test was undertaken to determine whether or not such mass movement is possible in meeting disasters and if so, just what details of dispatching, loading, unloading and so forth, must be considered in the operation.

“Piggyback,” as it is termed in railroad circles, is nothing new to most of the railroads of the country which have adopted this method to better meet highway truck competition. Essentially, it consists of loading the trucks and transports of whatever nature on special flat cars, properly anchoring them, transporting them as part of normal freight trains, and discharging them from the conveyances at a predetermined spot by means of permanent or temporary ramps or loading platforms.

Forces which made up the rail convoy from New Haven County assembled in the New Haven Railroad yard at the foot of Brewery Street, New Haven, where the vehicles were loaded by way of ramps aboard the 15 and more freight cars. The crews of the various fire companies were carried in two coaches tied into the train. A regulation caboose containing train crewmen tailed along behind.

Railroad workmen secure apparatus to flat cars prior to departure. Test was held to determine possible large-scale disaster use

Special freight cars

As rapidly as the fire department pumpers and rescue rigs were mounted piggyback, they were securely fastened by the train crew. The freight cars used in the operation are so constructed that connecting ramps may be let down between cars to permit unloading of the vehicles progressively one after another, until the rearmost one of the convoy clears the forward ramp to the ground. The unloading ramp used in the test was constructed of timbers by the members of the Base with the help of railroaders.

The entire operation of loading, travel and unloading was accomplished without mishap. The train, hauled by regulation diesels, covered the 50 miles between New Haven and New London within an hour’s running time, notwithstanding the fact that there was a continued drizzle of rain.

Part of piggyback convoy in operation on the water front at the U. S. Navy's New London Sub Base. Over 100 fire companies from eastern Connecticut took part in the testsSob Base sailors and firemen place plonk ramps in position prior to unloading. Apparatus was driven off entire train progressively, over connecting bridges between flat cars without mishap. Operations were conducted by land, sea and air during maneuvers

It was the opinion of observers, as well as firemen who made the trip, that such piggyback transportation would be entirely practical in the event road and highway conditions leading to the scene of an emergency made normal highway travel impossible.

Important considerations

Two important factors should be borne in mind in the event of piggyback rail emergency transportation. The first is the matter of loading facilities. Not every community along the railroad has loading platforms or ramps sufficiently strong to pennit such loading or unloading. Nor are there timbers or other means of improvising satisfactory loading ramps immediately available in all communities where fire forces might be called upon to load or unload.

The second question that should be predetermined before such transportation is undertaken is the ability of the loaded apparatus to safely pass under the numerous highway and other bridges encountered along the average railroad right-ofway. Some modern fire apparatus with high cabs can only barely clear the overhead passes—others which mount lights or master stream devices on top of cabs or elsewhere may be unsuited for such safe movement.

In this connection, the fire forces of Westchester County, N. Y., during World War II prepared elaborate plans for moving its fire units into New York City (or elsewhere) by means of the two major railroad lines leading into that city. The initial survey made by the Fire Chiefs Emergency Plan with the cooperation of the New York Central and New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroads, disclosed the fact that certain apparatus in the county could not safely pass under all of the overhead bridges. Nor could all the railroads’ freight-loading platforms and ramps be used because of their inability to withstand the weight of the fully loaded apparatus.

The facts, once analyzed, resulted in reshuffling of apparatus assignments for New York City. It also led to some improvements along the railroads’ right-ofway. Also, the freight cars now used for piggyback emergency transportation are improvements over the old flat cars and gondolas which it was formerly believed, were the only kinds available to transport fire apparatus. Although today it is a pretty safe conclusion that no insurmountable difficulties of clearance or loading facilities will be encountered, chiefs who have studied the matter report it would be well for those fire officials who may be interested in the possibilities of piggyback emergency transportation to do a bit of research on these possible drawbacks and prepare their response plans accordingly.

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Finally, any plan for possible piggyback operations must take into consideration certain other factors such as the length of time it will take for the railroad to locate the necessary freight cars and locomotives to do the hauling, the question of facilities for assembling and catering to the fire crews and so on. This is another reason why any plans for utilizing the railroads in time of emergency must be worked out with the representatives of the railroads themselves, as well as CD authorities.

“Operation Submarine Base” definitely prosed that piggyback emergency transportation is entirely practical and possible where there is cooperation between all teams.

The editors acknowledge with thanks the cooperation of the following in the preparation of this report: Fire Chiefs Thomas Collins, New Haven; Leno Viscovi, U. S. Naval Submarine Base, New London; the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and the State Office of Civil Defense, Hartford, Conn. Photographs used to illustrate the article were furnished by The New Haven Register.

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