Experiments at the Duluth Convention show that Cartridges Unconfined do not Cause Damage by Explosion.

Specially Reported for FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING.

This subject was one of the most important brought before the convention, and from the number of chiefs who took part in the discussion it proved highly interesting. The large attendance at the tests on Thursday morning also showed that a practical demonstration of the action of loose cartridges in fires was desired. At the opening of the forenoon session on Wednesday Mr. Henry Brewer, of the Winchester Repeating Arms company, of New Haven, Conn., was given the privilege of the floor and he outlined the proposed tests of exploding cartridges which were to take place the following day and read this statement:

“There is a movement on foot on the part of the fire insurance underwriters in some sections of this country to raise the rates on ammunition, and, also, on all material in buildings in which ammunition is stored. This increase in rate is so great that it practically makes ammunition prohibitory for many business houses that have always handled it heretofore. As the increase in rate is greater on large quantities than on small, it becomes a very serious matter to the large wholesale houses throughout the Middle West, for they are a long distance from the factories, and, if they are to handle ammunition at all. they must carry it in considerable quantities. The underwriters do not state that they consider the ammunition a source of lire, nor do they say that they consider it a mcnace to the firemen. They merely state that it has been their experience that men hesitate to enter burning buildings known to contain ammunition, and that, so long as the firemen do not fight the fire with the same freedom that they would if no ammunition were present, the insurance companies must consider it a source of risk, and must list it at a correspondingly higher rate. It is for the purpose of showing by a practical test just what takes place when a large quantity of cartridges amt loaded shells are burned, and in that way demonstrating to the Fire Chiefs that there is no great danger in lighting such a fire, that the manufactures have asked permission to burn a quantity of ammunition in the presence of the members of this convention. The dangers feared by those unfamiliar with this matter are of two characters: h irst, a heavy explosion caused by the simultaneous explosion of a large quantity of the ammunition, which might wreck the building or otherwise endanger life and property. Second, flying missiles and fragments thrown by the exploding ammunition. Ammunition in a fire does not explode simultaneously. We make this statement advisedly and emphatically, after many years’ experience. Gunpowder in bulk, that is to say, in kegs, will explode with force. One keg exploding may tear open the adjacent kegs, and the flash of fire from the first communicate to the second, and that, in turn, to the next with such rapidity that the explosion is practically simultaneous. At first thought there would appear to be no reason why ammunition should not act in the same way; but. as a matter of fact, it does not An exploding cartridge has not sufficient force to tear open the adjacent cartridge and. therefore, cannot communicate fire to the powder charge of its neighbor. Each cartridge in the fire explodes individually, and explodes, when its particular primer is heated to the flashing point; but the flash from this cartridge cannot set off the adjacent cartridge. Consequently, instead of having a simultaneous explosion, we have a series of explosions of the individual cartridges, and, when there is a large quantity of ammunition burning, these explosions follow in rapid succession, sounding like rapid musketry fire. The danger from flying fragments of exploding cartridges is by no means a serious matter. The cartridge shell, unsupported by the gun chamber readily bursts at the first indication of pressure, and this allows the gasses to escape at a low pressure. The escaping gas expends its energy in tearing open the shell, rather than in throwing the bullet, and, as there is nothing to restrict the escaping gas, it has hut little propulsive force. Frequently the heads of the cartridges are torn off and thrown some little distance; but the bullets scarcely ever fly. In other words, the heavier parts of the cartridge remain behind, and only the lighter parts are thrown out, and they are thrown with no force or velocity; in fact, a fireman may keep well beyond the range of fragments thrown from the fire and still be easily within working distance and as close as the heat of the tire would permit. For many years it has been the practice of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and other ammunition manufacturers to burn their defective cartridges and primers by throwing them into a large kettle over a fire. Each individual cartridge explodes when its primer reaches the flashing temperature, and never in the history of the ammunition manufacturer: has simultaneous explosion occurred. A careful examination of the records of fires in buildings containing ammunition fails to show a single instance of simultaneous explosion, although large quantities of ammunition have been burned at various times; as, for instance, in the fire of the l S. army storehouse at the Rock Island arsenal a few years ago, when several million rounds of government ammunition were consumed, and. also, the fire in the Peters Cartridge company’s plant in King’s mills. Ohio, in which the entire building was gutted and several million rounds of ammunition burned. In both of these fires the ammunition burned with a noise like rapid musketry fire, hut without simultaneous explosion. We call to mind again the points which we wish to demonstrate: First, that no general or simultaneous explosion can occur. Second, that there is no great danger from flying missiles at a distance of a few yards. When you witness the fire test tomorrow morning, we wish that you would note particularly. (1) the length of time elapsing between the starting of the fire and the time when the ammunition begins to explode; (2) that the ammunition does not begin to burn until the wooden cases are burned open, and their contents fall out into the fire: (3) that no simultaneous explosion occurs: (4) that only the lighter parts of the cartridges are ejected from the fire, and these with no great force.”


Chief McQuade said: This is a question that I am greatly interested in, and 1 am glad we are to have a test of that description; if the ammunition is not fixed up for 11s, hut the ordinary ammunition we use every day.

Chief Higgins remarked that lie had some experience in this matter. “In my city (he said)1 had a fire where there was 100,000 rounds of cartridges. I had my men in that same building work back into an isolated room and we had them in there but a few minutes before the cartridges commenced to pop, and there wasn’t a man injured. The top of the cartridge didn’t go two feet in some instances away from the box. You can’t do any damage with missiles of that kind—powder cartridges—as long as they have an opportunity to expand. There is no force behind them.

Chief Rozetta had a very destructive fire in a wholesale establishment, where there was a carload of cartridges, and his men worked in and out of that building and that no explosion occurred.

Mr. Brewer said: “The ammunition which is to be burned is the product of the four companies of this country, and it will be taken directly from stock from the houses in Duluth, and we would be glad to have some one go down with us when it is selected. We are taking the ammunition simply out of stock; nothing is sent out for the purpose. We shall endeavor to pick out ammunition representing the classes. Coming West on the steamer quite a few fire chiefs. Chief Horton, of Baltimore. Cheswell, of Boston. 1 yson, of Louisville, besides a large number of others I spoke to, had had large fires where there was ammunition, and they all said that when it went off it was like firecrackers, very rapid shooting; but that nobody was hurt. There was very little flying of anything around, and no jar or explosion of any kind.”



After the tests the committee presented the following report on the exhibit of the Winchester Repeating Arms company, the Union Metallic Cartridge company, the Cnited States Cartridge company and the Peters Cartndge company.

At the first session of the convention a paper was read from the above ammunition manufacturers to the effect that insurance rates are being raised on ammunition and all goods in buildings in which ammunition is stored: that ihe underwriters state that they find that firemen hesitate to enter burning buildings which are known to contain ammunition. The ammunition manufacturers assert that burning cartridges do not explode simultaneously, but that the cartridge explodes individually, each cartridge exploding when its particular primer is heated to the flash itig point, and that the fragments and bullets are thrown with no great force, and that the firemen can remain within working distance of fire with 110 danger to life or limb. The ammunition manufacturers asked permission to demonstrate the truth of their assertion by a practical test of burning ammunition. The test was conducted under the provision of the committee on exhibits. The committee was composed of the following members: Chiefs A. A. Rozetta (chairman) ; D. J. O’Neill; Henry Lemoin; J. P. Quigley; and A. H. Runge. The ammunition manufacturers were represented by Messrs. Brewer and Kegelmeyer, of the Winchester Repeating Arms company, and J. L. D. Morrison, of the Union Metallic Cartridge company; the other manufacturers did not have representatives present. The ammunition for the test was taken from the stock of the Marshall-Wells Hardware company and the Kelly-How-Thomson company, both of Duluth, and was selected under the personal supervision of the committee on exhibits. It represented a general assortment of shot, shells loaded with black and smokeless powder, rifle and pistol cartridges loaded with black and smokeless powder, it being the intention of the committee to select an assortment such as is usually found in ammunition stores. Then follows a detailed list of the ammunition. The tests were of two characters: (i) 1 he burning of ammunition in a confined space; (2) the burning of ammunition in an unconfined open space.


A building ten feet square and eight feet high, with a roof, was built of seven-eighth-inch pine boards, with two by four-inch framing. A hole twelve-inch square was cut in the roof, over which was built a chimney six feet high. Within the house a fire was built of excelsior and fine dry wood, and in the fire were placed about 5,000 rounds of various kinds of ammunition. These cartridges were in the pasteboard boxes, but not in the wooden shipping cases. The cartridges began to explode shortly after the fire was lighted, and continued to explode during a period of twenty minutes. There was no general explosion of any kind. Firemen at a distance of thirty to forty feet wet down the building from being burned. After the ammunition was half burned up, the firemen tore a hoard from the side of the building and extinguished the fire. An examination of the residue of the fire showed many of the cartridges unexploded, and others were exploded. The exploded cartridges were torn open, and, in some instances, the bullet was found in the neck of the exploded cartridges.



A pile of wood and excelsior-ten feet square and two feet deep was built and about forty cases of ammunition were put on the pile, and the entire mass was saturated with five gallons of kerosene. Some of the cartridges had been taken out of the packing case; but the large majority of them were left in their original cases. The cartridges began to explode shortly after fire was lighted, and then for a period the explosion became less frequent. The first explosions were probably from the cartridges which were not in the packing cases. Later, when the packing cases burned open, and their contents fell into the fire, the explosions became almost continuous. Fragments of shells, and occasionally bullets, were thrown some distance from the fire. The paper shells were occasionally thrown out intact —that is to say, without the shell being burst open; but the metallic shells w-ere invariably torn open by the exploding gases. The fire continued for a period of about thirty minutes, during which time the firing continued without interruption. The firemen then turned on a stream of water, which instantly cooled off the unburned cartridges, and the firing ceased. During the test persons approached to within twenty or thirty feet of the fire. Several persons wre struck by flying fragments of cartridges; but in no case was the velocity of the fragment sufficient to cause discomfort to the person hit. The test proved conclusively that there was no general or simultaneous explosion, and that the firemen could approach well within working distance of the fire without danger.

A lengthy discussion followed the reading of the report, in which Chiefs Canterbury, Tyson. Campion, Rozetta, Leinoin, Benedict, Hyatt, Haney, Humphreys, Swingley, Thompson, Maxson and others participated.


Chief Canterbury asked the committee what the object of the display with the cartridges was. What did the manufacturer claim in making the exhibit at this time.

Chief Tyson replied: “In a great many states in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys the insurance companies claim that on account of the refusal of firemen to enter buildings where ammunition is stored, they contemplate raising the rate twentyfive cents or something like that. What the manufacturers wanted to demonstrate was that there is no danger of a fireman’s losing his life by going into a building where this character of ammunition is stored and the demonstration was given as an educator to some of the chiefs, possibly, who have never gone up against an ammunition tire.”

Chief Campion said: “We have 4,000 and 5,000 cases of cartridges on different floors of buildings in Chicago, and we have had a recommendation before the committee on several occasions to place them in tlie basements; but some of the aldermen think they should be kept on the top floor. If stored in the basement pipes could be applied without the risk of going into it at all Where there are large quantities of ammunition, he though it should be kept in fireproof vaults, and not in mercantile buildings.

Chief Lernoin said that in the city of Grand Rapids a building that had a large amount of ammunition stored in it, caused a disturbance by the insurance companies, they claiming that it was very dangerous. Not being very familiar with the subject, he wrote to chief Mushain, of Chicago, and, after receiving a reply, he declined to take any action towards removing the stock.

Chief Canterbury thought it would not be a good idea for the association to report that such an amount of ammunition placed in any position in any building would be of a safe character for firemen to go up against. “It would be a good idea to keep a certain amount of this stuff in outside buildings and not allow any wholesale house to pile up more than that amount beyond what was recommended. It is just the same as acetylene, calcium carbide or anything else. Calcium carbide is not dangerous by fire, but when firemen come to touch it with water then they are up against the proper thing. It should go outside just the same as the powder magazines.”

Chief Lernoin said: “There is no claim made that there is no danger. It would lie nonsense for anyone to say that the dropping of a box of cartridges such as that used here, with nothing in but the cartridges boxed as they were, would explode and harm any one. In this test the cartridges didn’t explode until the fire reached them, and in most cases, singly.”

It was moved and carried that the last two paragraphs relating to the cartridges be stricken from the report.

Motion seconded, and upon being put was declared carried.

Chief Hyatt, said : “It seems to me this is not giving this exhibition, which certainly was a grand one and one that all the chiefs expressed themselves as being delighted with, proper treatment. It seems to me we ought to give the report of the committee. If you wish to eliminate the remarks of the committee favorable to the exhibition, why you could do so. I move to reconsider the vote in regard to the exhibition of the Winchester Arms company. 1 do not think the members understood that the whole of this report was to be eliminated.”

Chief Haney said: ”1 make a motion that this part of this report be cut out: ‘During the test persons approached to within twenty or thirty feet of the fire. Several persons were struck by flying fragments of cartridges; but in no case was the velocity of the fragment sufficient to cause discomfort to the person hit ;’ also the. following paragraph: ‘The test proved conclusively that there was no general or simultaneous explosion and that the firemen could approach well within working distance of the fire without danger.’ ”

Chief Humphreys said: “The description of this committee, of the force of these explosives, is very well written. 1 should think that we ought to adopt that portion of it; but the recommendations, just as Chief Haney suggests now, we might omit. It is necessary to get the report of the committee.” The two paragraphs were on motion finally stricken out.

Chief Thompson said it did not seem to him that the exhibit was made by the manufacturers for the purpose of getting the insurance kept at the standard it is. or reduced if they consider it too high. “We have seen the exhibition and you have a report of the committee on exhibits as to what they think of it, and we have taken out what they think about it, and say nothing at all. except that we saw the exhibition. I think it would be wise for us to make some pronouncement as to what our opinion is on that exhibition we witnessed, and I think our opinion should be that, notwithstanding all we saw there, we are still of opinion that certain safeguards should be placed around the storage of these as well as all other combustibles and explosives.” The report as amended was then carried.


Chief Canterbury offered an amendment that it is the sense of this organisation that all large quantities of ammunition of this kind should Ik* placed outside of buildings in magazines for that purpose, which was seconded by Chief 1 hompson.

Chief Maxson said that one thing had occurred to him that in a city of 40,000 inhabitants they might call three or four boxes a large quantity, and in Chicago they would call a ton a small quantity. He thought the quantity ought to be stated.

Chief Thompson said that every city had its own ordinance in relation to regulating these things, and that “wdiat is a large quantity for one place would be a small quantity for another. We are simply giving an expression of our opinion for the purpose of safeguarding ourselves and our men when we have fires in places of this description.”

Chief Maxson said: “That is just wffiere I take issue with the gentleman. In our city, when we attempted to adopt an ordinance as to what should be stored, we were asked what we recommended. What does the International Association of Fire Engineers say? Each individual city is going to make its own laws governing; but it looks to such associations as this, and to people that have had the experience with dangerous commodities to guide them in making laws.”

Chief Canterbury said: “The gentleman is all right in his views. We have got to assume certain responsibilities as heads of our departments, and we must get along the best we can. 1 don’t want to screw a big concern the same as a little hit of a one that would only handle a small amount of cartridges.”

THOMAS E. DWYER, Lead-Lined Iron Pipe Co.

The motion of Chief Canterbury, “It is the sense of this organisation that all large quantities of ammunition of this kind should be placed outside of buildings in magazines for that purpose,” was then carried.

Mr. Brewer, the representative of the Winchester Repeating Anns company said to a representative of this journal: “We do not argue that ammunition does not Hy from the fire or that persons are hot liable to slight skin cuts from the Hying fragments of ammunition; but our contention ⅛⅝ that cartridges must explode one at a time, anti that there can no general explosion to wreck buildings or otherwise damage persons or propert) ; that the fragments fly with no great force; and that the danger from these Hying missiles is by no means more serious than the danger to which firemen are constantly subjected from broken glass and other dangers incident to the vocation. About 70.000 rounds of ammunition were burned in the two tests; 65,000 rounds in the second. These cartridges contained approximately 125 pounds of smokeless powder and 29o pounds of black powder—total, 415 pounds. This is equivalent to about ten kegs of smokeless and twelve kegs of black, of the standard size. It is easily understood that twenty-two kegs of powder exploding at once would be a dangerous matter; but, when loaded into cartridges, they explode one at a time over a period of at least halt an hour, so that at no one time is any considerable amount of gas liberated. This is the key to the whole matter. The subdividing of power in separate and isolated units, each of which acts independently and without sufficient force to be dangerous of itself, renders a large amount of powder comparatively safe.”

J. A. TILDEN, Hersey Mfg. Co., Boston.

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