Hazard of Aluminum Bronze Powder
The danger of explosion and fire in aluminum bronze powder is clearly shown in a report just issued by the Boston Manufacturers’ Mutual Fire Insurance Company on a blaze at the Aluminum Company of America, New Kensington, Pa. At 7.15 a. m. a disastrous fire occurred in the aluminum bronze department, which resulted in the destruction of four buildings and, what was worse, the loss of seven lives, fifteen others being badly burned. Two of the buildings were of an excellent type of construction, having brick walls and concrete floors, with a wood overlay. The other two buildings were of frame or partly frame construction, and had formerly been occupied for foundry purposes.
Since 1913 the manufacture of aluminum bronze powder had been carried on in these buildings. This powder is of different degrees of fineness, the finer forms being extremely hazardous on account of the ease with which they may become ignited, and also because of the fact that water when applied to the burning powder increases the force of the flames and may create an explosion.
The morning of the fire a supply of some of the ingredients used in the manufacture having run out, the machinery was not started, and two of the men were set to work in the sifting room to tear down an old brick core oven. There was an accumulation of fine aluminum dust on top of this oven, and at the second blow of the sledge a spark was struck, which ignited the dust. The fire spread so quickly over the top of the oven that one of the workmen was burned before he could get down. The men as quickly as possible gave the alarm to the foreman, who was in his office, and he hurried to the scene and endeavored to extinguish the fire by the use of pails of sand (incipient fires in this material are most effectively extinguished by smothering with sand). The fire was located in an awkward place, and in spite of the efforts of the men, it spread, reaching the roof and attacking the machinery in the room, which was of wooden construction. A call for assistance was then made, and some of the machine shop force responded, trying to use sand on the fire, but by this time it had reached such proportions as to be beyond the control of this method of extinguishment. The whole building was soon on fire. The mill force immediately laid a line of hose and used a stream on the passageway between the sifting building and the storage building, with the idea of keeping the fire out of the latter. Fire doors were closed and a dam of sand was placed around the underside of the fire door between the stamp mill and the sifting building. The town fire department had been summoned and, on arrival, laid their hose lines, and it is said used one stream on the burning sitting building, although cautioned that the use of water on aluminum powder in a finely divided state was disastrous.
In the meantime the fire had spread through an unprotected belt opening into the stamp mill, which was protected by automatic sprinklers. The mill fire department, and probably some of the town firemen. entered the stamp mill with a line of hose, and without doubt some water was put on from this line, but almost immediately an explosion took place, which badly burned these men so that seven died soon thereafter and fifteen others were severely burned. A few minutes later a more severe dust explosion took place in the underground heating duct, which wrecked two of the brick buildings, the effects of the explosion being particularly manifested wherever there was an outlet from the heating system. The first explosion lifted the roof of the stamp mill and broke off the sprinkler system, which was shut off about that time, and the fire having a free play, almost immediately consumed the woodwork of the stamp mill. The force of the explosion, particularly the second one, damaged many sashes and a large amount of glass in other buildings, and in the adjoining property of the American Sheet and Tin Plate Company. The storage building stood until about 11 o’clock, when fire attacked it, probably through the roof, and it burned until completely destroyed.
The old foundry building, north of the stamp mill, took fire and a portion of it was burned before the fire was finally extinguished. The first of the explosions referred to above took place about 8 o’clock, and the second and more severe one about fifteen minutes later. After that time the firemen were afraid to approach the plant, so that practically little was done in the way of fire fighting, and the fire virtually burned itself out, resulting in a loss estimated from $150,000 to $175,000.
When it was first proposed to introduce the manufacture of aluminum bronze in this plant, one of our enginers was assigned to make an investigation. The hazards connected with the manufacture of this material were thoroughly brought out. and the company placing the risk were notified that the Boston office would not insure this portion of the property, it being believed that the risk was not a Mutual one. Unfortunately, some of its associates did not agree with it, with the result that, while this company does not participate in the insurance, its associate companies do.
Chief Engineer Kirwin, of the Newport, R. I., fire department, has received a check for $400 from St. George’s school to be divided equally between the Firemen’s Relief Association and the Permanent Firemen’s Pension Fund. The gift is made in appreciation of work done at a recent fire at the school.
The Holyoke Firemen’s Relief Association contributed $100 to the Halifax relief fund, and the North Andover Firemen’s Relief Association gave a similar amount.
The Amesbury, Mass., Firemen’s Association has elected T. A. Reddy president and Captain P. Manning secretary.
John Fox has been appointed chief of the Pascoag, R. I., fire district for another year.
Damage estimated at $100,000 was caused by a fire in the Renne building, Pittsfield, Mass., on December 9.