French Method of Fire Fighting
A strikingly clear and detailed report of a fire is that published on page 165. It is a translation of an article written by the chief officer of the fire department of the city of Paris, France, Monsieur Vanginot, the original being of course in French. It describes a fire which took place last September in one of the greatest department stores in the French metropolis, known as the Magasin du Printemps. The principal facts brought out in Chief Vanginot’s report are that the building itself, while supposedly of fireproof construction, the framework being of steel, had serious defects, the pillars and girders being unprotected by cement or other coverings and exposed to the full heat of the flames. The consequence was inevitable, that, as is graphically shown by the illustrations accompanying Chief Vanginot’s report, the steel columns quickly buckled from the intense heat and the weight resting upon them. The same thing happened to the steel girders which collapsed, allowing the floors to fall.
Another omission which undoubtedly contributed to the complete destruction of the building was the absence of automatic sprinklers. In the letter to FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING accompanying the report Chief Vanginot lays special stress upon this fact, saying that in the one small portion of the basement which was sprinklered the heads discharged effectively and had even the basement been protected throughout by these devices much of the building could have been saved, as it would have enabled the fire fighters to attack the fire from the interior.
In the chief’s description of his methods of handling the fire there is much of interest to the American fire fighter. At first an attempt was made to fight the blaze from the interior but soon, one by one, the companies were driven out, until at the sign of weakening in parts of the structure, owing to the buckling from the heat, the officer in charge ordered all of the men out. The fire was then fought exteriorly and the striking feature of this part of the battle was the bringing into play of a great number of tower ladders, which apparently seem to take the place of our water towers. These apparatus poured water into the burning structure from all sides, twelve of them being in use. While in most cases the lines, boosted by ten pumpers, were effective, some of them being siamesed into the ladder towers, there were instances apparently, judging from the diagram accompanying the article, where the lines were too long to attain sufficient pressure to be of any practical use. However, taken all in all, there seems to have been ample water to fight the fire with good pressure and the principal reason for its extent would seem to have been in the original delay of the private fire department of the store in giving the alarm and the attempt by them to put it out without the aid of the municipal department. This, the lack of sprinklers, and the type of construction of the building seem to have largely been the cause of its destruction.