FIRE PROTECTION AT KANSAS CITY
(Special Correspondence to FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.)
It would require too much time and space to relate in detail the endless difficulties encountered in fighting fires during the early days of Kansas City, Mo., and for the same reason a description of our facilities cannot be given minutely. Like many other public facilities, our fire department has been taxed to its greatest capacity in order to keep pace with the rapid and phenomenal development of the city. It might be said that the commercial advancement preceded, if it did not greatly exceed the needed improvements in the way of fire protection. However efficient a fire department may be, its usefulness is greatly impaired in the absence of adequate water supply and the force necessary to maintain the direct pressure, which is of such great protection to every community. Our water service was not installed by the city or even under municipal direction, and, while it might have been sufficient in its infancy, the much needed improvements were not attempted until after the plant was acquired by the city; indeed, it can be said that not until recently have we had the protection due a large and constantly growing community like Kansas City.
In the early days we depended entirely upon ponds and public cisterns for water; in fact, it appears that immense improvements have taken place in a comparatively short peftod. What are now the sites of large busin_____ss blocks and magnificent public buildings were formerly familiar places of water supply for the firemen. The ground upon which our great convention hall now stands was not many years ago occupied by a large body of water known as Reed’s pond. This was our chief source of supply in case of a large fire, also for supplying our public cisterns. We had fifteen of these cisterns in, the business district, and it may be interesting to know that they are still in good condition and kept full of water. From these ponds and cisterns we pumped water with engines to extinguish fires.
Those of us who were in the service at the time i_____ mention will remember the arduous task of refilling cisterns after a fire. Not until this work was done were the firemen permitted to rest or sleep. We had then no paved streets, consequently, it was extremely difficult to keep our apparatus in anything like good condition. Water was drawn from a cistern, and the mud removed with the aid of sticks, brooms, and sponges. Our fire hose had to be treated in like manner.
The first fire extinguished in Kansas City by water thrown from a hydrant started in the old Union depot, September 18, 1875, at 11.15 Pm. T he structure was located a little east of the present Union station. Opposite the old station there was located a two-story building used as an hotel and known as the Chicago house. The old depot burned like tinder, being completely destroyed, as was the hotel just mentioned. While this fire was a fierce one, the buildings burning rapidly, there was but one life lost, that of a guest of the hotel. As previously stated, this was our first experience with water under direct pressure, and it was, indeed, a novel one. The fireplug or hydrant was located immediately in front of the Blossom house and still occupies the same position. After this fire the old State Line depot was used until the completion of the present station in 1877.
Many important changes have since taken place in the fire and water departments of Kansas City, We then had but three hose companies, two fire engines, and one hook and ladder truck—the latter having only two men to operate it. At present we have twenty hose companies, six hook and ladder trucks, two water towers, eight engines, one chemical engine and a supply company, which is employed to handle supplies for the department. We have a total of 195 firemen regularly in service. Many improvements have been made in our department since last April. Numerous hose wagons and reels have been rebuilt and our supply of hose has been replenished to the extent of twenty thousand feet.
We expect to place in service at the beginning of the new year a new seventy-five-foot. Seagrave aerial truck, having all modern attachments and appliances. One new engine house has been built and thoroughly equipped, while the older houses have been made modern and comfortable through the introduction of bathrooms, heating plants, and .well furnished sleeping apartments. This should inure to the benefit and efficiency of the department, as well as to the comfort of the men. Another important improvement is represented by a new hrick hose tower, steamheated, in which we can hang 16,000 feet of hose at full length. This is a valuable acquisition and a great saving in the care of hose during cold weather. Other equipment and appliances of comparatively less importance, though of equal necessity to the department have been added during the time stated. Our department is noted for quick hitching and ability to respond to alarms in the shortest time possible. By diligent effort and close application we strive to maintain this distinction.
As already mentioned, our waterworks are owned and operated by the municipality. Under the direction of our board of public works and most efficient management, the plant has been raised to a standard becoming the city’s importance. Large forces of men have been employed since last April in substituting large mains for all of small diameter. New mains have also been laid where needed, and the water supply throughout the business district has been materially augmented by these changes. Our water service in the residence district is quite sufficient to all necessities. Not long ago it was determined that no hydrant of less than six inches would be retained, consequently, a large number were taken up and replaced with a larger and modern pattern. We have at present 2,324 fire hydrants in service, and the water department is working on the installation of too additional plugs. These new hydrants will inure greatly to the benefit of our firefighting facilities by reason of avoiding long outlay of hose and maintaining regularly a better pressure. The earnest desire of all interested in securing adequate fire protection for Kansas City is to have hydrants established at every intersection of streets, also one at the comer of each alley. With such an arrangement hose companies can work on a fire from all directions, using shorter lines of hose and naturally obtaining better results. Direct water pressure is essential to proper fire protection in every community. Fire engines are valuable adjuncts, but should always be held in reserve.
Our present waterworks system contemplates such an arrangement, and, considering the rapid growth and enlargement of the city, we may point with pride to the fact that in several years over nine-tenths of our fires have been successfully fought without the aid of our engines. The engines, however, answer every alarm in the business district, and are kept in readiness to meet every emergency. The board of public works is now deeply absorbed in the problem of still further enlarging our water supply—it being the earnest desire of that body to introduce such additional improvements as may afford protection to all sections of such a large and growing community as Kansas City. The gentlemen comprising this board are mindful of the arduous duties imposed upon them. as. while there is ample water service at present, fire protection cannot be too great or too complete, and it is the earnest desire to keep abreast with the city’s rapid growth. Tt may safely be said that the plans finally agreed upon will afford protection commensurate with the city’s commercial importance and be equal to any emergency.
Next to the efficiency of men, horses, apparatus, houses, and water supply, is the fire alarm service. First prepare to combat conflagration, and then see that no bad results may ensue from inefficient fire alarm service. We are amply protected in this re spect. as is evidenced by the following; lhere is at fire headquarters a telephone switchboard, to which are attached four trunk lines connecting with as many central offices. It is, therefore, possible to receive an alarm direct from any one of 11,000 individual telephones in the city. There is also a separate connection with the Western Union Telegraph company affording their operator opportunity to transmit without delay all alarms received over call boxes. All engine houses and the homes of the chief and assistant chiefs are connected by a double metallic circuit, over which alarms are transmitted simultaneously by our operator. In addition to this protection, we have the Gamewell police and fire alarm system, quite recently installed. There are 150 boxes in this system, and it is being improved steadily. It has proved a valuable acquisition, and can be made more so as extensions are perfected. The Gamewell boxes are located upon the streets, and by means of this system the department is enabled to receive promptly alarms which would otherwise be greatly delayed. Especially is this true during the night, when business houses arc closed and communication with the fire department over the telephone system is shut off. Business houses could install a Gamewell fire alarm at a very slight expense, and thereby insure a most prompt alarm of fire to the department. By such means of communication it may be said that little opportunity would exist for delay in the transmission of alarms.
Kansas City is never satisfied to rest on her oars, and her firefighting facilities will be watched and improved along with other developments.
ABSTRACT OF ANNUAL REPORT.
The total number of alarms, losses, insurance, etc., for the calendar year 1902 was as follows; Total number of alarms. 1,281: total building loss, $285,911.53; total contents loss, $249,099,93—total loss, $535.011.46. Total amount of insurance on property involved—$7,464,906. The following is a detailed statement of improvements:
There has been added one new engine house, known as No. 20, located at Guinotte and Montgall avenues. The new company has been installed with five men and one watch boy. Cost of building engine bouse, $5,700; cost of harness, horses, hose wagon, etc., $700; cost of building an addition to engine house No. 8, at Sixteenth and Locust streets, with large hose tmver capable of holding 16,000 feet of hose, equipped with a furnace for drying hose quickly, $2,700; purchase of 20,000 feet of new fire hose. $15,550; general overhauling of various engine houses, $1,096: equipping various engine houses with new beds to replace those worn out and unfit for service. $1,237.95; purchase of new hook and ladder truck, $3,800; purchase of eleven head of horses, to replace old and worn out ones which have died. $2,040; equipping various engine Houses with new bathtubs and water heaters, $591: new pumps and overhauling fire engines $1,471.54—total, $34,886.49.