FIRE PREVENTION AND PROTECTION.
RATHER curiously, the mails bring us at one time two pamphlets which, if properly read and inwardly digested by the general public, would do very much indeed toward reducing the outrageously large fire waste and long list of deaths by burning, in which America notoriously leads the world. In “ The Prevention of Fire,” William Paul Gerhard professes to write mainly with reference to hospitals, asylums and other public institutions, but most of his remarks, which are stamped with the approval of Edward Atkinson of Boston, the eminent underwriter and authority in matters of fire protection, are equally applicable to the construction, furnishing and care of dwellings, business structures or any other buildings. In fact, were all of his recommendations to be heeded, the number of fires of other than incendiary origin would be lowered to a most surprising extent The author devotes considerable space to the discussion of building construction, incontinently damns the usual cheap and nasty methods of fitting up the inside of otherwise substantially built brick and stone houses, and recommends that all hollow, vertical flues and o[>en spaces in walls or partitions should be completely filled, either with brick and cement or some non-conducting, non-burning material, such as mineral wool; also, that stout wire lathing or netting should be used instead of the ordinary lathing. He advises the use of hard burned bricks and terra cotta rather than iron or stone for house fronts, and the protection of wooden or iron beams, girders or columns by a coating of brickwork, plaster, fire clay or other non-conducting and fire-resisting substance. Absolutely fireproof construction is not an impossibility, but is, naturally, costly; but under the head of slow-burning construction we are told how a building may be erected which, while costing but little more than ordinary, will be almost entirely safe from the danger of buming from within. For roofs copper, tin, tar and gravel, asphalt and slate laid over mortar are recommended; even shingles laid over mortar rather than slate laid in the usual manner. The defective chimney flue comes in for a strong blast of warning, and we are told how they can be built so as to be safe. Elevators and staircases should be inclosed by fireproof walls, and the former provided with tin-covered tightly closing doors, and the underside of wooden staircases should be made fireproof by means of wire lathing and plaster or terra cotta tiling. The staircases should never under any circumstances be built, as is the case in some of the modem apartment houses, inclosing and surrounding the main elevator in the same shaft. Entrance doors should, without exception, open outward. This is a fact which everyone knows, and yet it would be easy to pick out dozens of public buildings, the doors of which open inward, and the loss of thousands of lives in burning churches and theatres has resulted indirectly from this cause. As to fire escapes, Mr. Gerhard remarks upon the difficulty with which the ordinary kinds can be used by women and children, and recommends for hospitals and asylums broad external staircases, made of gas pipe and angle iron, with wooden treads and strong railings.
In the matter of heating apparatus, we are given minute directions for the protection of floors and partitions through which stovepipes and hot air flues pass, as well as any woodwork in close proximity to steam heating pipes. In a hospital or asylum, the laundry should be provided with automatic sprinklers. Taking up the subject of artificial lighting, Mr. Gerhard advises great care in the putting in of electric light wires and the running of the dynamo.
We quite agree with the author that it is hazardous to examine a gas meter at night with a candle, and that where a building is lighted with gasoline gas, the fluid and gasometer should be relegated to a detached fireproof building or underground vault, at a safe distance from the main structure. In fact, Mr. Atkinson says on this subject that he “ would advise storing in a hospital a barrel of gunpowder, which can be looked after, rather than permit the building to be lighted by gasoline under any conditions or by means of any machine.”
Then as to lamps, the rule should be made absolute that not one shall be cleaned, trimmed or filled after dark. Matches should be kept in closed earthen or metal boxes, where children and rats cannot get at them. Lightning rods should be tipped with some conducting, unoxidizing metal, should be placed on the highest points of a building and the conducting wires carried directly down into the moist ground.
A big public institution should always have at least two sources of water supply, and it is well that it should be provided with tanks under or on the roof, or on towers of such a height that a stream can be thrown over the roof of the building. Last, but by no means least, fire apparatus, if only in the form of iron waterbuckets, should be at hand, and the occupants of the building should know how to use it This little work of Mr. Gerhard is good and instructive reading, and we commend it to the intelligent men in the fire departments.
“The Best Fire Protection for Small Towns ” is the title of the second of these pamphlets, and is issued by the Silsby Manufacturing Company of Seneca Falls. Some time ago this firm wrote to the chiefs of a large number of fire departments throughout the country, asking them the result of their experience with the steam fire engine. The replies to this question are printed in this little volume, and form the most convincing argument in favor of the protection afforded by steam fire engines which has ever been presented. Chemical engines and extinguishers, buckets, hand pumps and the like are of more or less value at the incipient stage of a fire, it is true, but the only real protection is generally conceded to be afforded by the steam or hand fire engines in connection with some system of water-works. And as between steam and hand engines, there can at this day be little or no question as to super jority, the simple fact that the steamer will work for days, or if necessary’ weeks, without stopping and in charge of but two men, being enough to prove that to the most devoted admirer of the hand machine. The matter of cost, however, has hitherto been the terrible bugaboo which has scared the inhabitants of many small communities from procuring an efficient engine until after their town had been devastated by fire once or twice. The letters of these practical firemen show that, in so far as the running expenses of a steamer are concerned, they simply are not worthy of mention. In the small towns the engineers are generally the only paid members of the department, and their salaries rarely exceed $250 yearly, while the cost of repairs, fuel, etc., in some instances is as low as $10 yearly, many departments reporting it at between $25 and $50 —not an extravagant sura, certainly, and more than offset by the reduced cost of insurance, which we learn from most of these letters came about upon the purchase of a steam fire engine. We quote the following:
According to the minimum tariff for New York State, adopted by the Board of Underwriters, it will be found that the classification of rates per $100 is as follows : For places using steam fire engines, from $1 to $1.20. For places using hand fire engines, from $1.15 to $1.35. For places with no fire departments, from $1.25 to $1.50, in each case according to location of buildings and materials used in construction. From the above it will be seen that places using hand engines pay for insurance fifteen per cent more than those using steamers, and places having no fire department twenty-five per cent more.
In connection with these figures, let any taxpayer in any town considering the matter of fire protection, figure for himself what would be his share ol the tax for the purchase of a steam fire engine and the amount he would save in insurance, and contrast the two.
In calculating the saving in insurance, let him also bear in mind that he can, with safety, carry a smaller amount of insurance and at the reduced rate, as, even if the possession of a steam fire engine cannot save his property entirely, unless the fire should occur on his own premises, it would certainly hold the fire in check sufficiently to give him time to save at least a portion of his goods. Let him also realize his postion living in a town without fire protection, and liable at any moment to a conflagration that would sweep the place out of existence. High insurance rates offer no protection from this, and it is no exaggeration to say that scores of towns and villages, with their industries and accumulations of years, are thus annihilated annually. If the purchase of a steamer should not reduce insurance rates, it will certainly prevent their increase. Many erroneously think that the cost, and the expense of running and maintenance of a steam fire engine, are so high as to put such a machine out of their reach. The amount varies of course in different localities and under varied circumstances, but even where the outlay is the highest, it is extremely small as compared with the great benefits obtained.
In order that this expense may be positively known to parties interested in fire protection for their towns, instead of being estimated by us, we have addressed a letter of inquiry (a copy of which we give) to a number of our smaller towns and villages in different sections of the country, asking for the required information ; and we subm:t herewith the replies received, so that any place contemplating fire protection can see for itself the expense’of fire departments in places that have adopted steam fire engines and have had some years’ experience with them.
Of course, if a number of men like the fun of working at the brakes of a hand engine, we presume they may be permitted to enjoy themselves, but the experience of one Pennsylvania town will show that this sometimes proves a costly pastime, and these are the words in which it is told :
People have a mistaken idea concerning fire engines—our people with the rest. We bought a hand engine, broke it down at a fire after a hundred men were worn out, and enough lumber burned after the miserable “ hand pump ” broke down to pay for a steamer.
A pretty strong argument, certainly.
—The Louisiana (Mo.) city council has contracted for water-works, subject to a popular vote to be taken October 25. Under the terms of the contract the city is to be furnished with water for twenty years, and is to have the privilege of buying the works after ten years. There will be two pumping engines with a total capacity of 1,500,000 gallons every twentyfour hours ; six miles of pipes and forty-one hydrants.
—The Kokomo natural gas well continues to increase in volume. The heat and flames resemble those of a burning building fanned by an angry wind. The blaze from the end of the tube where the gas escapes is fiftyone feet high by actual measurement. At night the hissing roar of escaping gas can be distinctly heard for three miles. A new company has been organized with a capital of $10,000, and will begin the work of boring another well just east of the Wabash railway, on the south bank of Wildcat,—Indianapolis News.