Fire Protection in Smaller Industrial Plants

Fire Protection in Smaller Industrial Plants

Fire Prevention as Important to Small as to Large Establishments—A Carefully Drilled Organization and Good Housekeeping Most Essential—Southern Manganese Corporation’s System

IT is true that a large majority of our great industrial plants are fully awake to the necessity of adequate fire protection and prevention, and that many smaller concerns are equally alert in their readiness to combat the great monster that yearly feeds upon so many of our dollars and lives, but there also remains the unfortunate fact that in many smaller or medium sized corporations there is an apparent indifference to this need. I base the latter statement upon a rather limited scope of personal experience and observation. rather than upon widely inclusive and carefully studied statistics, although I cannot but feel that it must hold true for the whole nation as well as for the several communities I have observed. By medium or small sized plants I refer to companies employing less than a thousand men and owning plants less than a million dollars in value, whose protection may well be assured by an arrangement of equipment not exceeding in cost or elaborateness that operated by a single metropolitan residence-district fire company.

W. W. Stephen, Chief, Fire Dept., Southern Manganese Corporation

Three Classifications of Industrial Plants

I would assume, for convenience, that there are three classifications of industrial plants, according to their degree of fire protection.

First—The type that has no apparatus or organization for fire protection and prevention, and whose officials see the need for none.

Second—The type that has apparatus, more or less, but no organization for its operation and maintenance. This type generally makes no effort toward fire prevention in a systematic way.

Third—The type having apparatus that is maintained in readiness for use, with an organization of men to use it. This type, as a rule, places an equally great importance upon preventing the occurrence of fires.

First Type—Indifference and Inefficiency

To the officials of the first type of concern the cost and effort necessary to secure apparatus and organization is useless expenditure. “We have our insurance,” they say, “and there is the city fire department.” It is true that there is, in many cases, the city fire department. It there were not the foolkiller would work overtime. However, after sleeping watchmen, faulty telephone alarms, long runs and inadequate water supply have done their worst the insurance adjuster frequently has to do the rest.

I have in mind several examples of this sort. A certain plant lost their supply storage house, machine shop and chemical laboratory from a fire which at first an extinguisher might have stopped, with the nearest hydrant too far away to be of use. A year before this two fire hydrants had been situated less than a hundred yards from this place, and for purposes of economy had been removed. Despite this lesson the same concern, less than a year later, lost a hundred-thousand-dollar building through another fire, with the nearest plug a thousand feet away.

Another example. The manager of an industrial concern, when approached by a salesman of fire apparatus, said that he never expected to have a fire in his plant. Since he made that statement his plant has twice suffered a fire loss of nearly half its value. In each case a defective valve stem in the one plug available to protect this place was responsible, and to my last knowledge, after these two disasters, this defect had not been remedied.

Second Type—Lack of Organization

In regard to the second type that I have mentioned the trouble generally lies in the proverbial fact that everybody’s business is nobody s business. There is a certain plant whose management has been thoughtful enough to provide a hose reel and a house to contain it.

This reel is in excellent cohdition, except that it contains no hose, is piled and blocked with carbide cans, and for at least a year had had wire fencing nailed across the doors.

I am informed by an employee that another company bought a forty gallon soda-acid extinguisher, and were careful enough to keep it all the winter in a warm building to prevent its freezing. They were successful—it did not freeze, but one day during the following Spring the discovery was made that it had never been charged. There have been cases where all the plant hose was neatly stored away in the plant storehouse, and remained there while the storehouse burned.

Third Type—Keeps Down Nation’s Fire Loss

The fact that there are many concerns who may be classified under the third type is responsible for our yearly fire loss, appalling as it is, not exceeding much greater proportions. Several months ago we were present at an industrial plant fire that threatened at first to assume an alarming magnitude. A large two story warehouse, of frame and galvanized iron construction, and filled with bales of cotton waste, was thoroughly involved.

The city fire department stretched in four lines of hose, working at eighty pounds pressure, and the plant fire department, with four more lines from the plant fire pump, were already at work. This pump, drawing from a reservoir, pumping continuously four streams at a hundred and ten pounds pressure, repaid its owners within an hour’s time for every cent spent upon its cost and installation.

By concerted work between the city and plant department, with the city fire chief directing this, proper ventilation was secured within a few minutes. Then the hosemen, forcing their way into each story, brought the fire under control before the second floor began to sag, and by careful overhauling extinguished the remaining smoulders in the waste bales.

South End of Southern Manganese Corporation Plant, Anniston, Ala.

Plant of Southern Manganese Corporation, Anniston

This plant, owned and operated by the Southern Managanese Corporation, at Anniston, Ala., is situated in the suburbs of this city, upon its western city limit line. It covers an area corresponding in size to several city blocks, employ at full capacity around five hundred men and had a property value somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million dollars when constructed several years ago. The principal product of this concern, as indicated by its name, is ferromanganese, an alloy of iron and manganese. This product is obtained by smelting manganese ores in electric furnaces, in combination with necessary fuels and fluxes. The power used in these furnaces is supplied from hydro-electric sources, being carried some distance over high tension transmission lines. The current is supplied at a pressure of over forty thousand volts, which is reduced by transformers for the furnaces to less than two hundred volts. The raw and incoming materials for the plant are unloaded from railroad ears from an elevated wooden trestle over five hundred feet long and stored in concrete bins for distribution to the furnaces.

Smelting Shed of Steel Construction

The smelting process is carried on under a great steel shed, beneath which the electric furnaces are situated. This shed is five hundred feet long, a hundred feet wide and seventy feet high. The steel structure and concrete flooring of this building render it absolutely fire proof, so that the furnace operation and handling of molten metal is attended by practically no fire hazard. A number of electric motors are situated here, and constitute the total fire hazard in this place. They are well protected, however, by carbon tetra-chloride extinguishers, and are under the constant supervision of trained men, so that a burned out motor is a rare happening.

The metal from the furnaces, after being cast in molds, is stored in a wide, brick paved yard and finally loaded in freight cars from the shipping shed, a frame building five hundred feet long and varying in height from one to four stories. This structure also contains several store rooms for plant supplies, a machine shop and an ore concentrating plant. There are also situated near the main plant buildings two chemical laboratories and an office, (all frame) and a number of dwellings owned by the company and occupied by employees. This, in short, is the general plant layout.

Plant Fire Department

The plant fire department is organized with the following men as officers: W. W. Stephen, Chief of department; J. V. Amerson and H. K. Rayfield, Captains, and T. H. Rankin and C. L. Henderson, Lieutenants. The fire prevention system is so organized that at least two plant inspections are made daily by a department officer and the results reported to the management for immediate action.

During the past two years several hundred cases of fire hazard have been reported and eliminated, and a high standard of carefulness and good housekeeping developed in every department. The fire department apparatus includes a thousand feet of two and one-half inch cotton covered, rubber lined hose, distributed at four hydrants, being connected and folded in a hose house over each, with play pipe attached. Each hose house is equipped with spanners, wrenches, spare gaskets and other paraphernalia.

The hydrants are supplied from a twenty-inch main, with six-inch branches. The working plug pressure on this main, from the city system, is between seventy and ninety pounds. There are three forty gallon soda-acid extinguishers of the two wheel invert-to-operate type placed at advantageous points in the plant, which have been of service on several occasions in extinguishing incipient fires. The furnace shed electrical equipment is thoroughly protected by carbon tetrachloride extinguishers, every one of which has more than paid for itself. A single quart of liquid, on one occasion, saved four motor windings. The office, laboratories, machine shop and other buildings are protected by lines of one inch hose and by two and a half gallon soda-acid extinguishers. The position of each one of these is marked at night by a red light over it.

Method of Fire Drills

The plant runs day and night, with two shifts. A fire department captain and a lieutenant, with at least a dozen men trained in handling the fire apparatus, are on duty on each shift, so the plant is never left unprotected. Fire drills are carried out occasionally, the location being designated by various numbers of blasts on the alarm whistle. The following is a fair example from a recent fire drill report: “Fire drill was executed at 11:54 A. M. today by the plant fire department, using a line of hose and fire stream from plug number three. Four sections of hose were used, with an open Underwriters play pipe with a one and one-eighth inch tip. Water was turned on five minutes, with a working plug pressure of seventy five pounds. All department officers on this shift were present. Time elapsing between the first blast of alarm whistle and the arrival of water at the nozzle, thirty nine seconds.”

Duplicate Private Water System

The plant has, beside the city pressure system, a duplicate system supplied by two five hundred gallon pumps, pumping from a 175,000 gallon concrete reservoir. These pumps may be used to supply the fire main, and are capable of furnishing several streams at sixty pounds pressure. Finally, should both systems fail, it is possible for a city fire department pumper to secure direct suction from the concrete reservoir and to reach any part of the plant with several lines of hose.

Anniston City Fire Department

The city of Anniston has a full paid and very efficient fire department, under Chief D. C. Rainwater, a veteran of twenty years experience, who is regarded as one of the best fire department heads in the South. The plant fire department is thus backed by the city organization, which can reach the plant after a several minute run. The plant department has been of considerable assistance to the city department several times in helping to protect the section of town where it is situated. There is maintained at the plant, in connection with the fire department, a first aid room, pulmotor and safety organization. There has never been an accident that resulted in the death of a plant employee.

Hose and Fire Extinguishers

The two and a half inch hose, with play pipes attached, is connected and folded in hose houses over each plug, being distributed so that two lines may instantly reach any part of the plant. Twice the department has been called upon to use it, and in each case two eighty pound streams, through one and one eighth inch nozzles, were on the fire within one minute, and in each case a dangerous blaze was brought immediately under control. The thirty gallon soda-acid tanks have disposed of several small blazes in the plant and have afforded protection to the residence district near the plant. Upon one occasion the fire was rapidly involving the attic of a dwelling, and bursting through the roof in several places. The chemical hose line from two of these tanks, pulled by hand to the scene of the fire, were carried into the attic through a gable window by determined operators and quickly had the fire under control. One small fire in a basement was handled by a two and a half gallon sodaacid extinguisher. Quite a number of minor electrical fires, involving motor windings, are disposed of with carbon tetrachloride.

An incipient fire that required particularly delicate handling was extinguished by a one inch hose extension, through a reducing coupling, from the two and a half inch hose. A safety first campaign and a lungmotor are maintained in connection with the fire prevention work, and first aid lectures and demonstrations.

Importance of Plant Fire Protection

In conclusion, after asking the reader’s toleration for these wandering and loosely recorded observations, I would say that the following facts seem to be evident, from consideration of the few cases that have come into my own limited circle of experience:

  1. That a relatively sufficient degree of fire protection is as necessary for a plant employing three hundred men as for one employing three or thirty thousand.
  2. That a small plant may enjoy protection with a comparatively simple organization, and without the services of a high salaried fire protection engineer. One man, who need not devote his whole time to this, should be made responsible for looking after the apparatus and organization. This man, however, must be faithful and always attentive to every detail.
  3. That whatever protection a plant may have, there should be induced no sense of false security, and no let-up.

Safety is only won at the price of eternal and lasting vigilance, and even then one’s defences may crumble before an attack by the fire fiend in some manner that one may be utterly unable to foresee.

We are playing a game with an invisible opponent that is cruel, relentless and treacherous. Even at this moment the hands of the demon that never sleeps are shaking their incandescent dice, and who knows upon what roof they may next fall?

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