FIRE SERVICE OBSERVES V-J DAY BY BEING EVER ON THE ALERT
Jap Surrender Fun for Many but Just Alarms and Vigilance for Fire Force
A Staff Report
MUNICIPAL firemen, particularly of our larger cities, are no strangers to celebrations. The average citizen may be thrilled by demonstrations, but they are a headache for the fire fighter.
Beginning with the first rumors and reports of peace August 10, and perhaps inspired by frenzied competition among news services and radio commentators, fire service activities reflected every mercurial rise and fall in the public’s temperament.
Many cities had anticipated war-end celebrations and had planned the procedures for their emergency services to follow, the fire forces included. Some others attempted to carry through wartime civilian protection disaster programs; it is said a few were caught without plans of procedures. There was some indecision in certain areas over putting emergency plans into effect. Some municipalities called in offshifts on the August 10th rumored end of hostilities. Others did not. All-inall, there was no definite countrywide pattern of operation, so far as the fire service was concerned.
The epochal event, or the events, from Friday, August 10, to Wednesday, August 15, and, in some sections, the two days following, illustrated a number of factors having to do with such “emergencies”—and relating to the fire service.
The first is the importance of a municipality having pre-determined plans for meeting situations such as the celebrations created and not leaving matters to chance.
Next, plans should provide for the protection of fire department personnel, and apparatus and equipment under such conditions. A number of departments stripped apparatus of fittings and tools. Where possible, these were removed from running boards, holders and supports, to the inside of cabs, or the truck bodies. This saved many a tool and appliance from becoming a souvenir. All clothing not worn by personnel was likewise removed and, incidentally, although it was not expected that the majority of the responses made by fire companies would be to false or unnecessary alarms, firemen were ordered to wear helmets for protection against over-enthusiastic celebrants.
Thirdly, there was the problem of communication. Not once, but many times during the period of V-J day celebrations, local and long distance telephone service in many cities was completely jammed. This seriously jeopardized the transmission of fire alarms, particularly where the telephone is relied on to perform that function. It further complicated the task of calling in off-shift firemen, and would have slowed down vital communications requisite in fighting any serious working fire.
If reports reaching FIRE ENGINEERING are correct, the fates were kind to the fire service and the nation during the several day period of jubilation. There were no very serious fires to mar the occasion.
This doesn’t mean that the fire service didn’t suffer from the festivities. It suffered extra work, extra hazards and. in not a few instances, extra casualties.
New York City Celebrates
As might be expected, New York led the nation’s celebrations, in size, if not in all other details. That story has been pretty generally told. What may not be so well known is the effects of the red-letter day ruckus on the fire service. That was something for the book.
Both the fire and police departments of the world’s greatest city have long had well worked out plans for meeting and handling such affairs. In general the technique in the fire department is to call in off-shifts; split up certain companies, reducing response to alarms; reshift personnel and, if necessary, equipment to meet conditions; guard fire alarm boxes; speed up the transmission of signals and so on. This procedure has been reduced to its simplest, most practical form, over years of trial and error. It was further perfected during the days of blackouts and air raid alerts. It worked without hitch in the V-J Day emergency.
A terse summary compiled by Anthony J. Neumann, Engineer in the Bureau of Fire Alarm Telegraph which. as may be expected, occupied a focal point in all the excitement, tells the story.
According to this report, there was a total of 988 signals for the period from 12:01 A M. August 14 to 8:00 AM. August 17. Of these, 427 were false alarms; 193 bonfires and 366 other fires were all inconsequential. Of the 427 false alarms, Brooklyn led with 161; Manhattan with 86; Queens with 83; Bronx, 68 and Richmond, 29.
As for the bonfire statistics, Brooklyn was first with 98: Manhattan next with 57, then came the Bronx, 23; Queens, 10 and Richmond, 5. Other fires reported during the period were: Manhattan, 119: Brooklyn 102; Queens, 78; Bronx, 59 and Richmond, 10.
According to the records the busiest day was the 14th—the day of the premature report and, later, the president’s formal announcement, which came, it will be remembered at 7:00 P.M. Within moments after his broadcast, bells in New York’s fire stations began to hit. And they continued almost without letup until past midnight. Between 7:00 and 12:00 there were 172 false alarms; 122 bonfires and 57 other fires. A member of the staff of FIRE ENGINEERING, located at a midtown Manhattan fire company, logged 68 bell alarms between 7:08 P.M. and 11:03 P.M. These alarms were for Manhattan Borough only.
All responses to alarms, whether by telephone or box, were cut to an engine and ladder truck, except in cases where a single unit was dispatched. Companies with pumper and hose truck were split into two units
The recall of all hands was sounded at 7:09 P.M., and as firemen reported they were cither detailed to certain units for response, or to guard street fire alarm boxes (civilian protection forces having been disbanded, this task has now fallen to the regular firemen). A number got pushed around and had their uniforms torn or damaged in performing this duty. One fireman, John R. Scott, was assaulted by a bluejacket who attempted to pull the handle of a street box. The offender was held in $100 bail for trial but was later released to the Navy shore patrol.
New York City’s firemen were released from the recall at 2:30 A.M. August 15, and responses were restored to normal. Recall came again at 3:45 P.M . August 15, and the release at 11:00 o’clock that night for all Boroughs excepting Manhattan. That Borough was released at 1:09 A.M, August 16. There was no recall on the second V-J Day, August 16. Not a false alarm of fire was received from a box covered by a fireman.
Firemen reported the usual joshing and pushing and it was a battle at times to keep overenthusiastic persons off the apparatus, and from under the wheels, but no serious accidents were reported, cither to the department personnel or to citizens, in connection with response.
Orders later issued by Patrick Walsh, Commissioner and Chief of Department, complimented all the personnel on the manner in which it met the emergency, and rewarded all men a time off to repay them for the extra time served.
Modern “Barbary Coast”
A record for rowdyism was set at San Francisco. Wild, and at times uncontrolled rioting, looting and assaults subsided on the morning of the 16th, after 1,000 police and Navy shore patrols bad dispersed the mobs jamming the downtown San Francisco streets.
The city’s third night of celebration found crowds in a destructive mood. Plate glass windows on lower Market street were shattered, display shelves cleaned out, automobiles at the curb were battered, women were seized and roughly handled in many cases. Property damage ran into the thousands. Sailors are said to have comprised most of the mob, and they were castigated by other men of the service as being a disgrace to the Navy.”
When the city took count, it was disclosed that six women were raped, and 1,059 persons were treated for injuries during the three night “peace riots.” The grand jury was impaneled to conduct a fact-finding investigation.
According also to District Attorney Edmund O. Brown, more than $25,000 worth of plate glass windows alone were broken. In addition to the other casualties, twelve persons lost their lives in fatal accidents.
Here, as in other cities, despite every precaution, the fire department was called to extinguish numerous set fires, fortunately most of them small. Sheds, bond booths and various flammable structures were either set afire as they were, or broken and fed to bonfires. No reports of injuries to firemen have been received.
On the 16th, Liberty for Naval men was cancelled by the Commander of the Twelfth Naval District, as the city counted the cost in lives and property lost, Chief of Police Charles Dullea put the blame for the riots on “unrestricted liberty granted uniformed men,” who were sold bottled liquor. The Chief went into action early the morning of the 16th when a mass brawl on Market street appeared to be getting out of hand. Bottles had crashed through store windows, awnings had been ripped down and window displays were beinglooted. Automobiles were used as battering rams to gain access to liquor stores, doors of which resisted bricks and lists. Women were molested and escorts beaten.
Finally, city policemen, military police and shore patrol moved to clear the streets. Police cars, eight abreast, with red warning lights turned on, moved eastward on Market street from above Sixth, with squads of policemen advancing along in the same direction, nudging the crowds ahead. Chief Dullea time after time called out over a mobile loud-speaker: “In the name of the people of California, I am requesting all sailors, soldiers and civilians to clear the streets.” In an hour or so the central part of the city was comnaratively quiet once more.
“Conservative” New England Seeths
Celebrations in customarily conservative Boston were on a par with the majority of other cities, although less damage was done. Most troublesome problem for the firemen is reported to have been the numerous unnecessary calls and the insistance of the joymakers on climbing aboard the fire apparatus.
Accounts have it that one large ladder truck, returning from an unnecessary alarm, was mobbed by “playful” rioters, some twenty-five or more of whom climbed aboard regardless of protestations of firemen, resulting in serious damage to the apparatus and putting it out of commisssion.
The old whaling city of New Bedford ended a two-day and night exuberance with a riot which took extra shore patrol men and a fifty-three man company of the State Guard to quell. No serious fires were reported, most of the trouble being due to free-for-all fights between the authorities, service men and civilians. Four adults and two juveniles were held on charges of assault and battery and inciting a riot.
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The Quaker City Quakes
In the first twenty-four hours of celebrating, the Philadelphia hospitals disclosed that during the activities 200 persons had been treated for wounds, cuts, burns and bruises. The number increased as celebrations continued.
More than ten were wounded by stray bullets, several were stabbed and a large number were burned by exploding firecrackers.
False and unnecessary alarms of fire kept the fire department on the jump in some quarters but no very serious blaze is reported to have marred the occasion.
Only meagre reports of accidents and casualties abroad during the peace celebrations are available. More than 200 Londoners were injured, it is stated, mostly by firewoks in the victory celebrations of the 15th-16th that kept 500,000 people in the streets and parks. Subway facilities were over-crowded; restaurants ran out of food; waste p_____r filled the streets, some of it being ignited. Accidents were caused principally by sky rockets, and fire crackers hurled into the throngs. Other accidents occurred in Hyde Park and St. James Park where huge bonfires blazed through the night.
Nature aided the authorities the second night bv sending sudden showers which dispersed the crowd. Firemen here, too, had what is reported as a “busy time of it” but statistics are lacking.
In Rotterdam, Holland, at least five spectators were killed and seventy-one others injured on the night of the 16th when a skyrocket fired in the city’s victory celebration landed in a munitions case aboard a British warship, moored there. There were casualties also among the ship’s personnel.
At St. Martin’s, N. B., explosions shook houses in the Bay of Funday coast thirty miles northwest of St. John after a scow loaded with gasoline and ammunition caught fire from a flare thrown up late on the night of the 15th in celebration of the Jap surrender. No injuries were reported.
In Europe and in the Pacific Theatre, a number of the armed forces were killed or injured by flares, bombs, incendiaries, tracers and falling shrapnel during the celebrations, despite the strict orders in some areas against any use of arms or weapons.
A noisy celebration was engineered at Boise, Idaho, when a Boise Tong, a Chinese organization led by 74-year-old Louie Sing You, applied the torch to 10,000 firecrackers the members had saved since their native country went to war with the Japs in 1937. Gov. Charles C. Gossett is said to have lent the steps of the State Capitol for the occasion. It is also reported that Boise’s firemen were on the anxious seat for some time.
Enthusiasm in communities served by volunteers were nonetheless lively. Absence of street fire alarm boxes in many such places reduced the number of false alarms, but bonfires, fireworks and general carelessness if not cussedness gave firemen in many communities of any size a busy time of it.
It was fortunate that some of them had no serious fires while the apparatus was out parading and celebrating. Reports of broken and otherwise damaged trucks, “lost, strayed or stolen” tools and equipment were pretty general where apparatus had to thread its way through the street crowds. Although no record of fatalities to members of the fire service have thus far been reported, a number were injured by thrown missiles, firecrackers, being knocked off running boards, or by rowdies in the crowds.