Fire Fighting Methods in Italy and Africa
DURING the past two or three years the Fire Depts. throughout the U. S. have been organizing to combat any possible incendiary attacks. Some experiences of overseas fire fighters should be of interest and possible help to the “folks on the home front.”
In the past year and a half I have had the opportunity to observe both military and civilian fire departments in England, North Africa and Italy. Over a year ago I wrote an article on the National Fire Service of the United Kingdom, which was published in FIRE ENGINEERING. At that time I pointed out that the principle features of a fire service capable of combating a “blitz” are:
- Fire watchers and fire bomb parties.
- Emergency (static) water supply.
- Auxiliary fire apparatus (trailers).
- Dispatch riders.
My contacts and experiences since leaving England have proven to me that those four points, in the order named, are the keys to successful fire defense.
Any area subject to incendiary attacks must have fire watchers to watch for falling incendiaries and fire bomb parties to attack such bombs that may cause fire. England learned that the only way to avoid conflagrations was to require that buildings have watchers posted nightly. Civilians (men and women) do a number of compulsory tours per month. In areas less subject to incendiary attack than the English cities, it is necessary to have watchers and details on duty only during attacks. It is usually a physical impossibility for any Fire Department to combat the large number of incendiary bombs dropped, therefore reliance must be placed upon watchers and fire bomb parties, the fire department responding only to such blazes as cannot be controlled by the fire bomb parties.
Static Water Supplies
Emergency (static) water supplies are the only reliable source of water. Heavy bombings invariably destroy the normal supply and may also damage emergency surface mains. Throughout the major cities I have visited are located water tanks with capacities ranging from a few thousand gallons to several hundred thousand gallons. These tanks provide a ready source from which fire pumps may draft water. If need be, relays may be laid from the large tanks or unlimited sources to supply the smaller tanks or the portable canvas tanks that may be set up. The portable tanks enable several small trailer pumps at a fire to be supplied by a heavy duty, large capacity pumper at the water source.
Trailer fire fighting equipment is most useful in built up areas where streets become impassable due to debris. An extensive emergency static water supply system is a prerequisite to efficient trailer pump operation. The best trailer pump I have seen is the Dennis 350/500 gpm turbine (cent.) pump with a piston pump primer. This pump is light enough to be readily manhandled by several men. Its disadvantage is that it requires a tender (hose-wagon) to carry most of its equipment, for the trailer holds only a few lengths of hose and other appurtenances.
The American made medium trailer pumps in use over here have certain refinements over European pumps. They have the advantage of being self-contained, all the hose and appurtenances being carried right on the trailer, thereby not tying-up a truck except as such times as the trailer requires movement. However, the weight of all this equipment makes it virtually impossible to manhandle the trailers over debris. However, once the American trailer is on the fire grounds I prefer it, for the heavy duty motor and American rubber lined double jacket hose make possible higher pressures.
Portable Pumps Valuable
The lightweight portable pumps have proved very valuable. They can readily be carried over debris or other obstructions and placed in positions inaccessible to other pumps. They are very useful in handling small fires on ships and around the waterfront. Narrow streets and alleys of old cities of the Mediterranean prevent the use of anything larger than portable pumps, while the small capacity water mains eliminate the need for larger pumps.
However, the value of the triple combination must not he overlooked. The small or medium pumpers with large capacity booster tanks and the large capacity pumpers both have their uses. In areas where water is scarce, the danger of bombing slight, the conflagration hazard negligible, or for any other reason it is considered unprofitable to build emergency static water tanks, the large capacity booster tanks are the answer. In Northwest Africa the civilian fire apparatus invariably have large booster tanks. Some with a capacity as great as a thousand gallons. Here, as in the Middle East, American triple combinations with 150 to 300 gallon booster tanks proved superior in all around fire lighting qualities to the trailer pumps.
Communications a Problem
Probably the most difficult problem to surmount when a fire department finds itself with a “Blitz” on its hands is communications. As mentioned before. all other contingencies have been taken care of: fire watchers and fire bomb details are on duty, emergency water supply sources are available, the necessary trailer and auxiliary pumps supplement the regular fire apparatus. Yet all these arrangements cannot function efficiently if communications fail, which does happen upon occasion.
The motorcycle dispatch rider appears to me as the best solution. Two-way radio may be a more scientific answer, but at present it appears impractical.
In addition to technical limitations it is not desirable to clutter up the ether with a lot of non-military talk. Finally, I don’t believe that a sufficient number of radios could be made available under present conditions. The dispatch rider precedes the apparatus to the fire. If he finds the normal fire route blocked by debris he can back-track to the nearest intersection and after informing the apparatus of the road block, he can scout around for another route. Upon arrival at the fire, he is the means of communication with the fire headquarters, or control center, should the normal means of communication fail.
The weakest point in this system is that there is so seldom the need to use it. On any fire the emergency water supply and/or the auxiliary fire apparatus may be used. On every alert the firewatchers are on duty, and during each incendiary attack the fire bomb details have the opportunity to work, but it is only in that great emergency when regular sources of communication have failed that the dispatch riders are called upon to carry out their mission. Therefore, it behooves fire officers to make use of their dispatch riders even when not absolutely necessary so that the officers may be sure the riders function smoothly.
Firemen Well Trained
The professional firemen I have met are generally well-trained, efficient workers. In Africa much stress is placed upon physical fitness, gymnastics being a popular sport. Another point that impresses me is the excellency of the first aid training, and the completeness of the medical equipment carried. Despite the political unrest in both Africa and Italy, the large municipal fire brigades have been able to maintain a high standard of personnel.
The civilian fire departments in both Europe and North Africa are normally concentrated in a few large stations.* Usually the headquarters stations in large cities contain extensive repair and shop facilities. In one African station I visited they had woodworking and metalworking shops, a complete automotive repair shop, and a hose repair shop. In addition, this station had a
complete gymnasium and a basketball court.
Fire ground technique varies considerably from U. S. practice. In both Europe and Africa most fire streams are light. Small tips (5/8″ or 3/4″) are often used and engine pressure seldom exceeds 100 Ibs./sq. in. The English generally use a 2 1/2 instantaneous snap coupling with a 2 3/4″ unlined canvas hose in 75′ and 100′ lengths. The practice is to carry each length rolled, female end in the center, one fireman being required to lay each length. The hose lengths are laid with male ends towards the pump, the reverse from U. S. practice, as discharge gates arc female and play-pipes are male. Where two lines are desired, often only a single line is laid from the pump and this line is branched with a wye at the fire. Shutoff nozzles are not in general use, fog or spray nozzles are almost unknown, while mechanical foam nozzles, both of the pack and in-line types, are used extensively.
The French type bayonet couplings used by the Northwest African fire brigades are the best couplings I have ever seen. These couplings are instantaneous, simple, lightweight (often being made of aluminum) and fool-proof (male and female ends being identical). Because of limited water supply 45mm (approx. 1-3/4″) hose is very popular but larger sizes (70mm or approx. 2 3/4” being general) are also used. The unlined hose is carried on hose reels transported on the fire trucks. Small-tipped playpipes are general. However, our American shutoffs proved very popular and one department made a number from our pattern. Both mechanical and chemical foam is used.
Building Materials Non-Inflammable
The Italian cities I have been able to visit are largely built of non-flammable materials. Water mains are generally of limited capacity, and fire departments relatively small. The equipment I have seen is modern. Many triple combination pumpers are of the enclosed type with large booster tanks. The “Magirus” type turntable ladders are in use. These have a longer reach than any of the U. S. ladders, and are mounted on a relatively short wheel-base chassis. The ladders have a mechanical hoist, are one-man operated, and are equipped with several safety devices.
No doubt I will learn about other forms of fire apparatus and equipment, as we progress into France and Germany, and I hope that I will be able to inform our American fire officers of foreign fire ground practices and technique through the media of FIRE ENGINEERING.
•The large percentage of nonflammable material used in buildings reduced the fire risk so that city fire brigades are much smaller than fire departments in the U. S. protecting cities with similar populations, while the small town brigades have practically no fire fighting equip ment.