Fire Service Ventilation in Principle and Practice

Fire Service Ventilation in Principle and Practice

How Mechanical Ventilation Works Out in Actual Practice. An Outstanding Case History—the Philadelphia Reading Terminal, Sun Ray Drug Store Fire

Editor’s Note: Part IX of this series on fire service ventilation which appeared in the August issue actually concluded the technical review and study of this interesting and important detail of fire control and extinguishment.

Of necessity, the preceding installments included only a limited number of case histories of actual fires. This was particularly true with those chapters dealing with mechanical or powered ventilation, where only one or two examples were recounted, and these only briefly.

One reason for this is that very few American fire departments make regular, consistent use of powered ventilation equipment, smoke ejectors, eductors, and air movers such as fans, circulators, etc. Still fewer have had occasion to utilize all such facilities at a single fire.

One exception which came to the attention of the author, was the stubborn, smoky fire in the sub-basement of the Reading Railway Office Building, Philadelphia. From the viewpoint of the student of modern fire suppression, this fire “had everything.” Outstanding, however, in the operation, was the manner in which ventilation was accomplished, resulting in confining the fire to minimum area, and to minimum property destruction, while affording fire fighting personnel maximum protection against heat and noxious fumes and gases.

Through the courtesy of Deputy Fire Commissioner and Chief of Department, George E. Hinck, and officers and members of the Philadelphia Bureau of Fire, we are privileged to bring our readers this most interesting and instructive case history including the illustrations by Lieut. Kennedy of the Bureau. We suggest this report be studied in relation to the previous chapters of this series, and we hope from it readers will be encouraged to intensify their studies of theoretical and practical ventilation— and add to their fire forces the latest in mechanically powered air movers and extractors.

MEASURED by actual property loss, the sub-surface fire in the Reading Terminal Railroad, Office Building, 12th and Market streets, Philadelphia on the evening of January 3, 1954, was nothing exceptional. But measured by potential destruction, and as an example of unspectacular but scientific fire control in the face of multiple handicaps most feared by professional fire fighters, it was outstanding. Few fire histories that have come across the author’s desk have evidenced so convincingly the value of coordinated attack, utilizing the latest approved attack methods, and facilities, and of pre-planning and preparing for such fires.

That this fire extinguishment operation in question scored what the property owners and occupants called a sensational success is a tribute to the progressive policies and programs of the Philadelphia Bureau of Fire which, in a word, provide its fire force with most advanced scientific equipment and apparatus—and constantly train and instruct the personnel in their use. Only such scientific an operation could hope to confine and subdue such a stubborn, inaccessible fire without serious injury to fire fighters, or to the very considerable tenant occupancy.

Property and Exposures

The scene of the fire was the Reading Terminal Office Building, in the heart of Philadelphia’s retail high value district. The building, erected in 1922, measures 266 ft. by 80 ft. and is two to nine stories; construction is brick masonry, steel girdered, cased in mackite and plaster. The structure was unsprinklered, with the exception of the head-house on the ninth floor.

The Office Building interconnects in the basement with the eight-story, steel girdered Reading Terminal Annex, 52 ft. by 80 ft., of reinforced concrete throughout and fully sprinklered. This was built in 1925.

Occupancies of these two buildings included on the street floor the Sun Ray Drug Store, at the southwest corner of 12th and Market; the Horn & Hardart Cafeteria; Arrow Men’s Haberdashery and Clothing Store, and the Lobel’s Children’s Clothing Store. Above the first floor were offices and miscellaneous occupancies including the Reading telephone exchange with 10 operators on the eighth floor.

Between the Horn & Hardart Cafeteria and the Arrow store on the Market street side, are escalators and steps leading down to the lobby and train floor of the Reading Railroad. On the 12th street side are escalators and steps between the 12th street entrance of the Terminal Office Building entrance, and the rear delivery entrance of the Lshaped Horn & Hardart restaurant, which also lead to the train floor of the Reading Railroad.

The old Reading Terminal Office Building and basement was equipped with a standpipe system supplied by a Worthington steam pump. This was not used during the fire as fire fighters considered the municipal water system adequate.

Old style building, with high-hazard occupancies on ground floor, large storage area in subbasement. Fire was held to sub-surface regions by prompt, efficient work of fire department.

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Bureau of Fire

The fire area was located below the old Terminal Office Building in a subcellar, adjoining the basement of the Sun Ray Drug Store, 50 ft. by 37 ft. and below Horn & Hardart’s restaurant. Here in partitioned cubicles were stored quantities of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, tobacco, drugs, appliances, food supplies, household goods, toys, and miscellaneous goods.

Adjoining this storage room, and also located under the restaurant and lobby of the office building is the electrical department motor room, a large area containing oil cooled transformers which convert the 13,200 volt current to 440 and 220 volt required in the building above. At the start of the fire, the power house foreman was notified to shut down all electric service.

It is reported about 400 customers and clerks were in the Horn & Hardart Cafeteria and another 100 in the Sun Ray store where the fire started. These were all evacuated without injury. Fire coptrol operations, including the prompt and thorough venting, made it unnecessary to remove occupants of the upper stores, who were not endangered.

Story of fhe Fire

At 7:04 P.M., Sunday, Jan. 3, 1954, an assistant manager of the Sun Ray Drug chain noticed smoke filtering under the sub-basement doorway leading to the storeroom area. He broadcast an alarm over the store’s public address system and notified all people to leave the premises. At the same time the 400 patrons of the cafeteria were told to leave the restaurant.

Simultaneously, Aero Alarm No. 512 of Consolidated Alarm System, was actuated from the sub-basement storeroom and the alarm put through to the Electrical Bureau at City Hall. A local alarm was transmitted, bringing out Engine 20 (Commerce and 10th) Ladder 23, and Battalion Chief 4.

Box 884 corner 12th and Market was struck at 7:10 M., bringing three engine, one ladder and one rescue companies, a battalion and a deputy chief.

The cause of the fire was not determined due to the almost complete destruction of the contents of the area where the fire started. That it had a good start was evidenced by the extreme superheated smoke and gases encountered by the firemen at the very outset.

In the opening stages of the struggle, as attempts were made to locate the seat of the fire and its extent, and before any masks were donned, fire fighters were driven back repeatedly by the heat and fumes. The lieutenant of Engine 4, taking part in the initial attack, operating from the drugstore basement doorway, was partially overcome by smoke and removed to the outer air. where he was revived and returned to the fire scene. This, and punishment encountered by other fire fighters, together with the survey by chief officers, impelled Deputy Chief Lord to sound a second affirm at 7:24 P.M., which brought Fire Commissioner Frank L. McNamee and Deputy Fire Commissioner. Chief of Department George E. Hinck to the scene.

By this time it was evident the battle would be long and gruelling. All-purpose masks, which were ordered on as soon as smoke conditions were apparent, proved inadequate for operation in the sub-surface, poorly ventilated areas. It was apparent that every facility of the department for ventilation would be required.

Chief Hinck. realizing the problem of ridding the structure of the superheated atmospheres to both protect the men and to reach the fire with fog and straight streams, and with the information provided by his aides and building occupants quickly mapped out the plan of action. All operations were carried out under his direction and supervised bv Assistant Chief Joseph M. Clarke, Deputy Chiefs William A. Haas and Augustus P. Lord, and Battalion Chiefs 1‘Tank Finestone, Henry Kincy and Frank Mellon.

Responding on the second affirm were the Special Service units known as S.S. 100. and S.S. 101, tender to S.S. 100, carrying additional supplies of wet water, foam, with smoke ejectors, circulators, etc.

Personnel Profecfion—Masked Men Covered by Fog

A noteworthy factor in this planned strategy was the combination of facilities and methods employed to protect the men operating below surface levels against both the smoke and heat and possible explosion due to ignition of charged areas. As said, lack of oxygen, and the superheated atmospheres, making service type masks ineffective, the crews were equipped with demandtype air masks. Only personnel so equipped were permitted in the effected areas. The men were divided into groups of four and roped for signalling and safe advance and retreat if necessary. They were further aided by fire department floodlights set up in the dark sub-basement and, of further interest, they were protected by strong water-fog patterns. In addition, each advancing eschelon was supported by stand-by lines.

Reserves of air cylinders were moved in by tbe Special Service together with special smoke-removing devices as an essential detail of the action. As each man’s cylinder was exhausted, he received a replacement from the rescue squads. As operating crews were withdrawn for rest (men were not permitted to remain in contaminated atmospheres, working on lines and with forcible entry tools, more than 10 minutes at a stretch) fresh personnel took their places.

Approximately 45 demand type air masks were in operation, being constantly refilled at manifolds by the Special Service Section, whose personnel set up an emergency refill station on the fire ground.

Early in the attack emergency escape routes were indicated for crews that might be caught in any sudden flarebacks or explosions. Possibility of the latter, although always present in such underground operations, was greatly reduced as venting operations got under way. Furthermore, as stated, attack crews had, as additional protection, ample water fog which also, in some measure, aided basement ventilation.

Ventilation the Key

Perhaps the greatest contrast between the handling of this sub-basement fire, and others in somewhat similar occupancies in years gone by, was the method of venting the charged and contaminated areas. Not only did this aid in protecting fire fighters, and in prosecuting the attack on the fire, but it effectively reduced smoke damage in the stores above and removed smoke hazards from the upper floors. It also served to permit some operation of railroad trains and the station which otherwise might have been shut down for an indefinite period.

As noticed on the diagrams of the ground floor and basement, the channels of possible ventilation of the subbasement area were limited. There were no straight channels or shafts, or other arteries, through which the smoke, heat and gases could be drawn off by natural cross or other ventilation. Even mechanical venting, which was resorted to extensively, had to operate somewhat remotely from the actual fire area.

No effort was spared to employ every form of ventilation, both above the fire, and wherever possible, through the channels leading to it. In this procedure only one large display store window on the Market street side was removed. Walls were breached where the openings would permit escape of heat and gases, and where streams could be brought to bear on the fire. Transom windows were removed in the Sun Ray Drug Store and Horn & Hardart Cafeteria for cross and upward ventilation. A power chainsaw, incidentally, helped make a clean and quick clearance of part of the show window display partition. This opening was over the basement entrance of the building.

Large smoke ejectors, with 18-in. suctions, and ventilator ejector suction fans were placed at strategic locations on both sides of the building, to remove the dense superheated smoke and choking gases. Suctions of the trailerejectors (the extra large smoke ejectors) were located at pavement ventilating gratings on Market street and over a large drop in the rear of “Unclaimed Baggage Room” (see diagram). All possible overhead gratings and coverings were removed.

The Arrow and Lobel Stores were opened by protective agencies, whose men set about ventilating them. Some smoke entered the railroad lobby by means of the escalator passageway and for a time rail-trainmen guided trains in and out of the station by lantern; train service was never fully interrupted, however. Some smoke drifted into the Market street subway concourse but not sufficiently to interfere with the movement of subway trains.

An indication of the effectiveness of the ventilation methods employed is found in the fact that smoke, most of it removed by natural or mechanical venting, could be detected miles away from the fire. The weather at the time of the fire was cool; temperature 36 deg. F.; wind 9 M.P.H., west; humidity 75%.

As is indicated on the diagrams, there were four major points of attack on the fire by way of the basement. In addition, there were lines brought to bear on the fire through overhead openings in the first floor.

Chute through which entrance was made from rear of Terminal Building, north side, showing hose lines and spotlight illuminating opening. In this attack, illuminating equipment, breathing apparatus and protective fog patterns were a contributing factor to fire control.

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Bureau of Fire

Every available street and sidewalk opening was used to vent contaminated sub-surface atmospheres. Here smoke ejectors and portable generators are used to vent below street-level areas. Scene is on Market street side.Any extensive sub-surface fire control operation may need plenty of reserve respiratory protective equipment. Here on the 12th street side, the fire department mobilized reserve cylinders of air for the stubborn sub-basement struggle. Note firemen with rope and light about to descend into the basement fire area.

Pholo courtesy Philadelphia Bureau of Fire

Ample light is essential for night ventilating operations. Philadelphia fire fighters guard sidewalk openings through which smoke extractors are venting stubborn Reading Building basement fire. Note collapsible tubing of large ejector in sidewalk opening.

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Bureau of Fire

From Point #1 a 21/2-in. line was laid to the basement doorway through the Market street side of the Sun Ray store to attack the fire from the front with B-190 G.P.M. fog nozzle. Additional lines were laid through the corner entrance (Point #2), 12th and Market streets, attacking from the front with B-190 G.P.M. fog and B-500 G.P.M. fog nozzles. Chiefs Haas, Lord and Finestone supervised operations at the front where an additional line was stretched through the 12th street entrance (Point #3) of the Sun Ray Drug Store.

At Point #4 21/2-in. lines were laid through the entrance to the Reading Terminal Building and down the basement steps to the fire area. Lines were stretched through the tunnel which interconnects with buildings running perpendicularly to Market street (Point #5). These two points of attack were under supervision of Assistant Chief Clark, aided by Battalion Chief Henry Kincy.

The remaining lines were laid from Point #6 through the entrance of the Reading Terminal Annex past the Carpenters’ and Plumbers’ Shops, down the basement stairs and through the Electrical Department Motor Room, under command of Battalion Chief Mellon. The hose lines in the tunnel (Point #5). which was used as a basement chute and runway for receiving stock at the sub-basement storeroom, were placed through steel pavement doors on Commerce street, to attack from the north.

Firemen under direction of Assistant Chief Clarke operating on the north side, devoted particular attention to the high voltage room of the Reading Railroad and although the system was de-energized, hose streams and fog were so used that none of the electrical equipment in the immediate storeroom area suffered water damage.

To those who like to apply the sliderule to operations these further details may be interesting. Each length of hose leading from doorways or entrances measured approximately as follows: From Market street side (Point #1) through Sun Ray: 73 ft.; from corner entrances 12th and Market streets (Point #2) through Sun Ray Drug: 120 ft.—all attacking from the south with B-190 fog. From Commerce street down through pavement doors (Point #5), through the tunnel, attacking with B190 and B-500 fog, and penetrating streams: 150 ft. from the east and south; and from Market street down the basement stairs of the Reading Annex (Point #6): 200 ft., attacking from the east with B-500 fog through the Electrical Motor Room and (Point #7): 50 ft. with a standby line at the Unclaimed Baggage Room.

All-told, 600 ft. of 3(4-in. hose, 4350 ft. of 21/2-in. hose and 350 ft. of l1/2-in. hose was stretched during operations. The smaller hose was employed largely in mopping-up operations. Water was used only as required, that is, when actual fire could be reached, or men were to be protected.

It was almost two hours before Chief Hinck or his aides were able to determine just what was burning. That it was highly combustible material was indicated by the heat given off. That some of the contents were toxic was suggested by the choking smoke. The heat was so intense that it buckled a 20 by 15 ft. section of the marble floor of the Horn & Hardart Restaurant. The flooring did not break but raised about 4 in. Firemen later drove a hole in this floor to examine the damage. Another floor opening was made as nearly over the fire as possible and a distributor used at this point.

The fire was confined to a space approximately 175 sq. ft. in the storeroom. The steel girders, encased in mackite and plaster, withstood the extreme conditions and suffered no serious damage, it is reported. The large unprotected cast-iron columns supporting the floor likewise were uninjured. The fire was declared under control at 10:45 P.M., but the problem of overhaul and salvage occupied firemen for many hours.

Total attendance at the fire was as follows: Chief officers 10; company officers 33; firemen 173. Many off-duty officers and men voluntarily responded and rendered valuable assistance. Also present were Robert K. Sawyer, managing director of the City of Philadelphia; Thomas J. Gibbons police commissioner and his staff; Dr. Saverio F. Brunetti and his assistants, operating the Fire Department Mobile Hospital phia: Leo Brennan. Law Department; Chief Edgar P. Grim. Electrical Bureau and members of the Fire Reserve Force and Second Alarmers’ Association.

(Continued on page 786)


(Continued from page 745)

Analysis of Residue from Smoke Ejecfor

In an effort to gain scientific information about the toxic properties of the smoke and gases of combustion at this fire, condensate from smoke ejectors was submitted for analysis to the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Engineering and Surveys Testing Laboratory. Report of the test was as follows:

Water and volatile matter at

105 deg. C……………… 27.6%

Tarry matter (distinct pine tar odor) …………………. 24.1%

Free carbon ……………… 38.3%

Ash …………………….. 10.0%


The heavy, irritating smoke affected the’eyes, and nasal passages of most of the fire fighters who initially attacked the blaze. Prompt and effective use of demand-type respiratory equipment is credited with preventing serious injuries to the men, only two of whom required treatment at the Mobile Hospital. Two others suffered minor burns.


This complete operation demonstrated number of precepts advanced by the author in the series of chapters on ventilation and in earlier studies on coordinated attack, among them the following:

  1. The wisdom of pre-planning for combating fire anywhere in such occupancies especially in high value districts, housing manv persons night and dav with emphasis on ventilating remote basement and sub-basement areas. Also, the importance of periodic inspections of such occupancies.
  2. The advantage of (a) equipping the fire force with all requisite facilities for effecting natural and mechanical, or power ventilation and (b) of maintaining sufficient reserves of essentials, such as lighting equipment, etc.
  3. The importance of training and drilling fire department personnel in the use of such facilities, not alone under ideal conditions but as near as possible in situations which may be encountered on the fire ground.
  4. Capable generalship and direction of operations.
  5. Rapid and thorough size-up and evaluation of the situation, as it is, and as it may possibly develop.
  6. Planning the action (of which ventilation is a major factor) and adhering to that plan unless and until developments necessitate deviation from it.
  7. The necessity of ample reserves of men as well as equipment for relief and stand-bv. The wisdom of “spelling men off” at frequent intervals.
  8. Attention to minor details in’safeguarding men during operations, i.e.: operating men (wearing masks) in tandem: roping men engaged in hazardous undertakings while so operating: guarding street and floor level openings used in ventilating and attack; providing covering fog, and stand-by lines, etc.
  9. Considering what possible damage and interruptions to travel and business, smoke and fumes may do to related exposures; facilitating restoration of services, such as transportation, even before fire may be fully extinguished.
  10. Conducting thorough overhaul and salvage (at this fire most of the contents of the burned storeroom were removed to street level in containers as they were overhauled. Occupants of the premises expressed surprise and admiration for the efficient way these details were handled to expedite return of business to normal).
  11. Profiting by the lessons in ventilation and attack taught by the incident.

Fire Service Ventilation in Principle and Practice


Fire Service Ventilation in Principle and Practice

Part IX Continued—The Use of Power Operated Air Movers in Ventilating

Editor’s Note: The previous installment of Part IX in the series on ventilation dealt with the introduction and use of smoke ejectors, injectors, blowers, etc. This Chapter of Part IX is devoted primarily to other types of powered air movers, such as fans, circulators and the like.

Although the use of smoke removers and movers of all types is presently very limited among this nation’s fire forces, nevertheless there are sufficient fire departments utilizing such equipment for ventilating and salvage operations to provide some interesting case histories.

Unfortunately, lack of space prevents publication of many of these examples. One in particular, the use of smoke removers, circulators, water fog, as well as efforts at natural ventilation, at the recent Reading Terminal Building in Philadelphia, Penn., could well take up several Chapters by itself. This was one of the first serious, stubborn basement fires in mixed mercantile and commercial occupancies in which every possible existing form of powered and natural ventilation was employed. The value of such thoroughly-rounded ventilating practice was proved conclusively at this fire, to the credit of the Philadelphia Fire Department. Our readers have already been shown some pictures of the ventilation operations at this ‘worker’. It is planned to publish the complete story of this fire in a subsequent issue.

But powered ventilation is not for the big city alone. Any and every fire department can and should employ it, or at least be prepared to do so. It requires no clairvoyant to envision the day when power-venting will be just as much “standard strategy” in fire attack, rescue and salvage, as the use of respiratory protective equipment.

Although this is the concluding chapter of the series on Fire Service Ventilation, the subject will be kept before our readers in subsequent issues.

The editors will welcome comments from our readers on this interesting and important development in modem firemanship—together with “case histories” of its application by local fire forces.

Heavy, hot, toxic smoke from burning cartons and synthetic materials punished Manhattan fire fighters at this 42nd Street shoe store fire until ventilation was accomplished. Note hot smoke rising. Since this fire, the city's fire fighters have been provided with more breathing equipment.

WHEN the first household electric fans were used to remove kitchen odors and to cool heated areas, there was born the idea that such devices could be adapted to rid smoke-filled areas of their contamination, and that by replacing those contaminations with fresh air, the heated smoke and the structural members and contents of the building involved by the fire would be cooled down, at least to some degree.

Through the years, various experiments have been conducted to develop fans and circulators that would deliver high CFM air removal with low power input, ease and safety of handling, reliability of operation, and at reasonable cost. Today the fire service is buying and using such fan-ejectors and blowers in ever-increasing numbers.

At least four manufacturing concerns are producing special mechanical smoke ejectors of this portable fan type. They are the Super Vacuum Manufacturing Company, Denver, Colo.; the Neep Equipment Company, Portland, Oregon; The Herman Nelson Corp., Moline, I11., and the Wooster Brass Company, Wooster, Ohio. A number of other companies produce fans and circulars suitable for certain fire department needs.

These fan air movers go by different names, i.e., exhausters, ejectors, blowers, etc. and new uses for them are being discovered by fire forces. Their compactness and light weight permit them to be carried on running boards of ladder and other trucks, or compartments of squad and emergency apparatus, or even in fire chiefs’ vehicles. They can operate either off the domestic lighting circuit, or street power circuit, or can be powered by portable generators. Different fire departments have developed original and ingenious methods and attachments for applying them, including strap and metal hangars, wheeled carts or stanchions, and the like.

These various units come with different shapes and kinds of fan blades, located in different types of housing. Motors are generally for AC electrical supply. They usually have waterproof wiring. They are provided with some sort of carrying handle or handles, supporting legs and guards over the fan. The propellers are designed to move considerable volume of air. Thus one unit weighing 45 lbs., having one-piece cast aluminum 16-in. blades, has a capacity of over 5,000 CFM. The 54 H.P., 110 v. 60 cycle AC, motor turns up 1,725 RPM. A 24-in. job with 3/4 H.P. motor reportedly will move 11,750 CFM. Another type weighing only 40 lbs. delivers better than 4,250 CFM.

One of the earliest users of this type “ejector” was the Fort Collins, Colo., Fire Department, under former Chief T.P. Treadwell. In 1938, the department installed a portable smoke ejector or exhauster which moved 3,500 CFM and was equipped with 150 ft. of packing house electric cord on a reel. It could be plugged into any 110-volt circuit or yard loop.

Chief Treadwell told FIRE ENGINEERING: “The ejector has been used very successfully on all types of fires from basement to elevator fires. It has also been used when fighting fires in the presence of fumes from leaking refrigerant pipes and compressors. In several instances, where gas masks were necessarv to combat fire or fumes, only a few moments with the ejector made it possible to continue work without the protection of a mask.

Chief Treadwell’s department used the circulator with a special deodorant and pine oil to rid dwellings and other occupancies of post-fire smoke.

In 1940, former Chief F. A. Taylor of Colorado Springs, Colo., reported his department had three ejectors of the same type in service and found them extremely valuable. “We have them mounted on a box-like frame which will fit into a window, or can be turned down over a coal hole to pull smoke out of a basement. As the fans are built to move a large volume of air, they make an excellent aid to ventilation during a fire and can be used to quickly remove smoke from a building after the fire is out. They are easily handled by two men and can be carried by one if necessary, which makes them available for any floor or part of a building. We have used them to great advantage in several basement fires and a number of times in the upper floors to clear out smoke. One instance was a fire at the back of a three-story furniture store which burned through the back windows. The fire was stopped here but the building was well filled with smoke. We put these fans to work immediately and cleared the building, with the result that there was no smoke damage, which is unusual in fires involving this type of merchandise. … We consider them an excellent investment, as they have saved their cost several times over, and are a great aid to the men in getting to the seat of the fire.”

In Spokane, Wash., former Chief William Payne installed five such units about twelve years ago and found them very useful in ventilating and removing smoke from smoke-filled rooms. As spark-proof motors have been installed in the fans, there is no danger of sparks from the motor igniting flammable gas, should such be present.

The experience of the Fargo Fire Department, Chief Fred J. Wells with these type extractors has been enlightening. Chief Wells writes: “We have one extractor rated at 1,000, four rated at 3,500 and one rated at 10,000 CFM. Extractors are carried so as to have them all at a fire in the downtown district on first alarm assignments. In the residential areas we have three available for use. If we need more we can use two-way radio and obtain them from trucks not on call. Chief Wells is another who has made considerable use of deodorants and air movers.

One of the first large departments to install and make regular use of this type air circulators was the Los Angeles Fire Department. Mechanical ventilating by means of exhausters and blowers is featured in the aepartment’s educational training film “Ventilation.” Some of the mechanical ventilating operations of this department are pictured in this Chapter.

Case History—New Haven

This fire was in a reinforced concrete building, five stories on the street level, six stories in the rear, having one subbasement. The first story rear bad windows on one side, and a stairway about three foot wide, to the sub-basement. There were three openings in the sub-basement, under a loading platform, and these had large fans in them. Unfortunately, they had lost most of their power and were not of much use to the fire department. Considerable time was lost by fire fighters in removing one fan from its opening so that a vent could be provided for the heavy smoke given off by synthetic rubber products.

The fire was located in the sub-basement against a far wall, in a pile of crude and synthetic rubber, wooden partitions, etc. The ceiling was about six foot high, with the usual hangingpipes, steam lines, conduits, sprinkler lines, etc. As usual in storage places, the material was piled high, and the aisles were very narrow.

Some sprinkler heads were working during the fire, but one sprinkler line unfortunately was broken and this reduced the effectiveness of the heads that otherwise would have done a good job controlling the fire.

Men of the New Haven Fire Department responding on three alarms, under direction of Fire Chief Thomas Collins, were forced to use demand type respiratory protective equipment to get at the fire, and to ventilate. Twenty-four such units were used in this operation. Each unit was refilled three times.

Firemen, temporarily held up in their fire attack by heavy, toxic fumes in this basement fire, place portable smoke ejector in action. Men were soon able to enter area without masks.

Photo courtesy Homelite Corp.

The folding, or collapsible, tubing supplied with the Homelite smoke ejector comes in 20-foot sections. Those used in the Los Angeles Fire Department are supplied with three 20-foot sections—60 feet having proved ample for most of its power ventilating jobs.

Photo courtesy Los Angeles Fire Dept.

Natural ventilation proving insufficient, mechanical ventilation was attempted, two smoke ejectors being placed in operation. One appliance was located at one of the openings to pull out the heavy smoke, and the other was operated inside the structure to blow out the smoke and gases. This operation took place at the rear of the lines working in the cellar. The smokeejector in this area was located inside, about 150 ft., and was hooked up to one of the fire department generators. The difficulty encountered in this operation was one that was pretty hard to control. In the heavy smoke, the firemen kept kicking the wire around and it became lost in the darkness several times. While it operated, however, it shoved the smoke ahead and the men made good progress, according to Chief Collins.

Fans can be used to introduce fresh air into smoke-charged or otherwise contaminated areas, driving out the impure atmosphere (left) or to exhaust the heat, smoke and gases, while pulling in purer air, as in sketch (right). The success of these operations depends upon (1) placement of fans, (2) lateral openings, (3) closing of overhead openings and (4) direction and force of wind.

Diagrams courtesy Emerson Electric Mfg. Co.

Placing the ejector as high as possible helps clear the hot lighter-than-air smoke and gas. This ejector is held in place by two hooks and ropes looped through the handles. The canvas tacked over the lower part of the door prevents entry of airFighting fires in blind basements is often hampered by congested smoke which reduces visibility to zero. A good solution to this problem is to place a smoke ejector in the doorway or other opening, forcing the smoke to the other end where a hole can be cut in the ground floor. Another smoke ejector placed over this hole draws the smoke. By propping a ladder from the smoke ejector to the top of a window and throwing a salvage cover over the ladder, a tunnel is formed through which the smoke is ejected from the building quickly, thus facilitating the firemen's work.

Courtesy Super-Vacuum Mfg. Co.

The combination of masks and smoke removers enabled fire fighters finally to reach the fire and extinguish it before it involved the entire building. It was a two-hour battle. In all, the department used eight 21/2-in. lines with fog or allpurpose nozzles, and four 1 1/2-in. lines with all-purpose nozzles.

Chief Collins summed it this way: This job proved that with proper training, and adequate mechanical devices, a department can press the attack on a stubborn, smoky fire, without a single man being overcome by smoke or heat.

Case History—Chicago Tunnel

A fire captain and three members of the Chicago Fire Department, and seven workmen, lost their lives in a fire that started in an incompleted section of the Sanitary District Sewer Tunnel in Chicago on April 13, 1931. Sixteen entombed firemen and workmen were saved largely through the use of a smoke ejector rushed to the scene from the plant of Peter Pirsch & Sons Co., Kenosha, Wis., 60 miles away.

The detailed report of this episode was given by then Chief Fire Marshal Michael J. Corrigan (now Fire Commissioner) of the Chicago Fire Department before the 1931 Convention of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The cause of the fire was never determined but the flames, confined in the underground passages, created dense clouds of smoke and toxic gases, which enveloped the workmen and rescuers who went down later. The concentration of heat, smoke and gases prevented thorough underground search. It melted the rubber clothing and burned the air hose of a marine diver sent down to do rescue work. Firemen equipped with breathing apparatus (not presently on the market) were hampered by heat and darkness and many were overcome in the long gruelling struggle to reach the fire, and to locate victims.

The sturdy housings of these smoke ejectors are so constructed that they can be securely nested for fast removal of particularly dense smoke or for faster clearing of large buildings. When stacking two or three ejectors, a ladder strap is sometimes passed through the handles to further steady the units.

Courtesy Super-Vacuum Mfg. Co.

The Philadelphia Fire Department used this heavy duty 6100 CFM trailer smoke ejector at the stubborn Sun Ray Drug Store, Reading Terminal fire, January 3, 1954, to pull fumes and smoke through Market street sidewalk opening, permitting men to advance lines in sub-surface areas. Fire Chief George Hink is shown at left.

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Fire Department

At the time of the fire, about 60 workmen were in the tunnel. It is said laborers wasted valuable time attempting to extinguish the fire. It was about 45 minutes after the fire started that the fire department was called. This was at 6:43 P.M., and Engine 23 and Ladder 14 and the Chief of the 8th Battalion (Thomas Geary) responded. The Chief and four members of Engine 23 and Captain James O’Neill and members of Ladder 14 entered the tunnel with hand pumps. The superintendent of the construction company and six men also re-entered the tunnel, 37 feet below street level, to shore up the shaft and prevent sagging and possible breaking of a 30-inch gas line. Two overcome workmen were removed by members of Ladder 14 but the fire could not be located, and at 6:50 P.M. Chief Geary summoned a rescue squad.

Hand pumps proving ineffective, firemen were ordered to the surface. All reached the surface except Lieut. John Geary of Rescue 2, who had remained to direct firemen to the location of the fire. The Chief, Captain O’Neill and crew of Ladder 14 re-entered the tunnel after about 25 minutes in an effort to get through the east airlock to order out everyone in the tunnel, but they could not make it and returned to the surface, whereupon Chief Geary called for additional squads. He was then overcome bv exhaustion.

At 8:17 P.M., Squads 1 and 8, Ambulance 2 and Division Marshal Patrick Pierce were dispatched. The Marshal met Lieut. Geary who had just come from the tunnel and was informed the fire was still burning. At this point the Marshal, Lieut. Geary, Lieut. Daly and two members of Squad 8 and Act. Lieut. Leo McCurrie in charge of Squad 1 descended into the tunnel leaving other firemen at topside being fitted to masks.

About 8:35 P.M., Chief Fire Marshal Corrigan picked up news of the incident on his car radio and responded. He was told about the men who had entered the tunnel and that it was feared something had happened to them. Captain O’Neill and Fireman Fitzgerald (of Squad 8) had donned masks and entered the tunnel attempting to locate Marshal Pierce and the missing firemen.

Chief Corrigan immediately ordered everyone out of the tunnel and ordered more men, equipped with masks, to try to locate Marshal Pierce. These men could not make it. Additional squad and ladder companies, ambulances and floodlight equipment, and later on an air compressor, were then called. Rescue squads were ordered to wear masks and life lines. They were organized in groups of three men each. Part of the head house and engine house were removed to improve ventilation and compressed air lines stretched from the department’s air compressor to blow the smoke and heat away from men operating cages. Soon after this victims began to be recovered.

First aid and artificial respiration were applied and those requiring hospitalization sent to various hospitals. The work of the rescuers, however, grew heavier and firemen became exhausted. Calls for more help were sent. A messenger service was set up to replenish the supphes of oxygen and other necessities for gas masks and inhalators. Between 10:00 and 11:00 P.M., efforts were started to dig two shafts for the purpose of reaching men who might be trapped in certain headings. By the time both shafts were completed, however, digging was discontinued because all bodies had been recovered.

At 11:00 P.M., Chief Fire Marshal Corrigan ordered the hire Alarm Office to get in telephone communication with Peter Pirsch of Kenosha, Wis., who designed and was experimenting with a mechanical smoke ejector. It was learned that the apparatus was not in serviceable condition, without wheels, the motor needed adjustment and flexible suction tubes lacked fitted connections. Mr. Pirsch estimated it would require from four to five hours to place the unit in condition and possibly two hours more to drive it to Chicago and he would inform Chicago when he was leaving.

About 2:30 A.M., after countless unsuccessful trips had been made into the tunnel by firemen, a professional marine diver was secured and he attempted to enter the tunnel, but was turned back by the heat.

About this time the Coroner requested that no more men be sent into the tunnel as he feared all were dead who were imprisoned there. Chief Marshal Corrigan, however, was not disposed to abandon rescue work and more attempts were made by fire fighters. About daybreak the bodies of Fireman William Karstens and a workman were found and removed. Efforts were concentrated on reducing the intense heat of the tunnel. A 36-foot ladder was lowered in the shaft and a fireman with mask and 2 1/2-inch line and l 1/4-in. nozzle lowered to the tunnel. This operation proved unsuccessful because the seat of the fire was not discernible.

Afterwards, a 36-foot ladder was rigged with an aerial pipe and placed in position to operate as a sort of cellar pipe, but after 15 minutes operation this was discontinued. The fire continued to Ventilation burn, giving off considerable smoke and heat.

(Continued on page 697)

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Fire Department Gasoline-driven portable smoke ejectors and electric circulators were used through this sidewalk and floor openings to rid heavily charged sub-surface areas of the huge Reading Terminal Building of noxious smoke and gases in fire of January 3, 1954.

Photo courtesy Philadelphia Fire Department

(Continued from page 659)

At 5:30 A.M. the Fire Alarm office was notified Mr. Pirsch was en route to Chicago with his smoke ejector. At 7:10 it arrived and alter some difficulty in assembling the flexible tubes, the machine was placed in position. When in operation only a few minutes it was noticed that it was clearing the shaft to the tunnel as the lights became visible at the different levels; and soon the bottom of the shaft was discernible. After operating 20 or 30 minutes it was decided that the air pressure in the tunnel be shut off for a moment or two (believing this might aid in subsiding the smoke). Not more than three minutes had elapsed when noises were heard in the tunnel and figures seen on the cages below. When the cage reached the surface 16 imprisoned men, including seven firemen, were aboard.

Contrary to general opinion, European fire brigades use both portable and heavy duty mobile smoke removers and blowers. Note the discharge from this electrically driven ejector, of the Helsingfors Fire Department.

Photo courtesy Chief Carl Astrom

A quick check showed all firemen accounted for except Captain James O’Neill of Ladder 14. His body was later recovered through one of the emergency shafts dug through the top of the tunnel by members of Ladder 31 and Squad 6.

The sixteen men had barricaded themselves behind a safety bulkhead door of the air chamber. There they huddled while the ejector drew out the smoke and fumes from the bore leading to the exit of the shaft. Trapped for fourteen hours, the men managed to escape alive after about fourteen minutes operation of the Pirsch ejector.

At one time, Mr. Pirsch thought his apparatus would go out of service for the main pipe had become red hot. But moisture from the tunnel, that was carried up with the smoke, cooled the metal tube. So powerful was the suction that even pebbles from the tunnel were discharged from the outlet. The ejector operated for six hours at the shaft.

The fire was finally extinguished but not until it had smoldered for nine days, while small streams of water were poured into the shafts that were dug to enable firemen to reach the fire.

Conclusions and Operating Practices

The experience of fire departments, both paid and volunteer, with air movers both as ejectors, and blowers, in relieving contaminated atmospheres has been sufficient to attest the value of mechanical, or forced ventilation. Use of both the larger, mounted mobile units, and the smaller, more maneuverable portable air movers is increasing but at a retarded rate.

This is primarily due to (1) lack of familiarity with the principles and practices of mechanical ventilation and (2) lack of knowledge of the type and kind of equipment essential to efficient mechanical ventilation.

It is evident that more scientific knowledge of the application of powered air movers to venting fires and smoked charged areas is needed by the fire service. There is need of more practical field trial and experimentation, to better relate the manufacturers’ air movers to the requirements of the fire service. Thus far, no standards have been determined whereby fire fighters can gauge the removal of contaminated atmospheres, and the effect of the injection of fresh air into contaminated atmospheres. Here is a very broad field of study for the technicians.

The use of smoke removers and fresh air blowers will not take the place of natural ventilation but they may be complementary to it. Nor will their application lessen the need of the fire fighter coming to grips with the fire, to extinguish it. Such mechanical facilities will only make it easier for him to make entrance, locate and rescue victims—and find the fire.

A factor that has been almost universally overlooked is the reduction in smoke damage through powered, or mechanical, ventilation. Every fire officer knows in a general way that good ventilation helps materially to enable fire fighters to locate, confine and extinguish a fire, and that this faster extinguishment tends to minimize fire losses, including damage by both fire, and attendant smoke and water. But few understand that forced ventilation applied with or without natural ventilation will not only reduce smoke losses, but properly applied with odor dispellants following a fire, will materially enhance salvage and reclamation.

Chief Fred J. Wells of Fargo makes this statement: “During the past year and a half we have reduced our smoke damage claims on an average of 40% through the use of smoke extractors. On several occasions, 100 per cent: or. in other words, no claims paid or submitted.”

This has been accomplished through diluting and extracting the smoke. This is done three ways: (1) By a rapid removal of the smoke from within the building: (2) bv blowing large amounts of fresh air into the building: and, (3) by a combination of the first and second method.

Chief Wells department employs all three ways, but starts with the first, or as rapid a removal as possible. This is done to lessen the amount of smoke which otherwise would remain in contact with the materials and contents within the building.Chief Wells reminds us that smoke does not hold its heat long. Hot smoke will give up its heat to walls, floors and contents. He believes that temperature plays a very big part in the penetration of smoke into materials, in the depositing of soot on materials and in the retention of smoke odors themselves by stock.

Summed in a few words, Chief Wells’ theory is Try and keep the smoke on the move, or stirred up and off the contents. As long as it is not in contact with the contents, it is not causing (smoke) damage to them.” This philosophy of reduction of collateral, or by-product losses caused by fire and fire extinguishment, should be carried further. At present, the dollars and cents relationship between fire damage and smoke damage cannot be formulated with any degree of accuracy. However, many authorities always look forward to smoke damage leading fire damage in as the majority of minor fires (some classify it as high as 94%) which are extinguished with something smaller than a 2 1/2-in. hose line. This may sound extreme—but insurance adjusters will admit that this holds true in many types of occupancies.