HIGHLAND BAPTIST CHURCH FIRE
How the Fine Springfield Edifice Was Destroyed.
Specially Writen for FIRE AND WATER ENGINEERING
At Springfield, Mass., on the night of January 3, the anniversary of the burning of the Carew Street Baptist church, the Highland Baptist church was burned, apparently by an incendiary, who set fire to an adjoining barn, from which the church was separated by only a few feet. In addition to the total destruction of the church, two lives” were sacrificd. those of Captain Sidney Bowers, of the fire department, and Fireman Francis J. Hines. These form the first record of a fatality to the firemen of Springfield when on duty at a fire. The total destruction of the building was due to two causes, the inadequacy of the water supply and a lack of foresight on the part of those who had the directing of the operations at the fire. Through some blunder, a wrong fire alarm number was recorded in one of the fire houses, and delay was thereby occasioned. There was also an unexplained difficulty in making the hydrant connections, and, when these were made, the water pressure soon became altogether inadequate. At first, three good streams were thrown; but it is claimed that tlie steamers soon exhausted the supply, and for some time, it is said, that the water simply dribbled from the nozzles. In the beginning the fire might and ought to have been confined to the barn in which it originated; but it progressed towards the chapel, which, like the barn was of frame, and was distant some feet from it. T he flatties may be said to have insinuated themselves round its cornice without having been noticed by those who were in charge, and. before the firemen knew it. the whole building was ablaze and apparently almost beyond control. Still it would have been possible to check the flames, if a chimney had not fallen at this point, burying two of their number under it. In all probability Captain Bowers was killed at once; but Fireman Hines was known to be alive, and for some time five streams—bv no means effective streams at that—had to be directed to that point, in order that the unfortunate men might be reached. The survivor was got out alive, but so badly burned that he afterwards died in the hospital. He was a call man, and, with Deputy Chief Daggett and the other firemen, had gone inside the chapel to fight the fire. Captain Stevens, who was also with them, had a narrow escape from death, but w>as rescued by a party of firemen. There was really no reason why the church should not have been saved. It was practically a distinct building from the chapel, and the general idea was that it could have been saved, especially as six engines were at work together with a full force of firemen. The flames, however, spread to the main building, as, while the attempt was being made to rescue the two buried firemen, the streams of three engines were cut off for half an hour and the firefighting virtually came to an end during that time. A general alarm had meanwhile been sounded and three more steamers had been brought upon the scene. One was stationed at the corner of State and Orleans streets; another, at State and Hancock streets; and a third at the corner of Stebbins and Union streets. By that time, however, there>was no hope of saving the church, although at one time, so great was the confidence entertained by tbe directors of the fight that the fire would be confined to the chapel, that no attempt was made to save the contents of tbe former, until its danger was perceived. By that time it was too late. The pews, galleries and organs supplied plenty of fuel, and the flames soon swept through the ample floor space of the auditorium, and finally burned through tbe stained windows in the front of the building. The tower, with its copper casing, next caught, and, after burning fiercely for half an hour, fell with a great crash. Its collapse was followed in about twenty minutes by that of the wall on tbe Stebbins side of the church, rendering its destruction complete. Ihe firemen were powerless throughout, and whether they were disheartened by the mistakes made in the beginning, for which, of course, the rank and file were not responsible, or by tbe fatalities that had occurred, or the lack of sufficient pressure, or all combined, they did not seem to work with the alacrity and earnestness for which a fire of such magnitude called. They did manage to save the dwellinghousc of the owner of the barn—like it, a frame building, and located about thirty feet from the east end of the church. A constant stream of water from a garden hose was thrown upon it till all danger was passed. Another two-story dwelling w’as saved in the same way. The chapel and the church, though by no means fire-resistant, were stout frame buildings, tbe chapel being the older of the two. The church itself was built in 1893 and had a brick basement. Tbe auditorium seated 1,000 people and in it was the usual array of wooden seats, galleries on three sides, rostrum, and organ (worth about $4,000). The building was valued at $60,000 and tbe furnishings, including two organs, at about $10,000 more. Both it and the chapel proved themselves firetraps. There is no doubt, however, that, whatever other causes of their total destruction were present, the lack of water was a serious handicap to the department. As has been said, when the steamers at last connected in the beginning, there were three good streams available; but, as soon as the engines were working full speed the other hose lines became almost useless. The whole waterworks system of Springfield is antiquated. The Ludlow street main in Front street was laid thirty-two years ago, and its usefulness has long since been gone. Fhe other mains are of very small carrying capacity. The pressure is nominally fifty pounds; but, even when no extra call is made upon the mains, the pressure will sometimes fall to twenty-five pounds and even less, because of the iimited capacity of tbe twenty-four-inch pipe. With three cr more engines drawing from the mains the result is that hose attached to a plug direct seldom shows a pound pressure. It is claimed that the pressure was from fifty to sixty pounds all the time the fire was burning. But, with five streams drawing from that, it is not to be wondered at that no effective streams could be thrown. Whatever the merits or demerits of the fire department may be. it is not giving its members a fair chance to expect them to fight fires under such a handicap—one that was fairly and squarely pointed out a year ago by the then Mayor E. E. Strong, the present chairman of the water committee, who prophesied that the first serious fire that broke out would prove the worthlessness of the Ludlow supply and the absolute necessity of installing a new system. The fire department of Springfield under Chief Littlefield is part full Paid and part call. In such a city as Springfield the department should be full paid and under the direction of a chief of up-to-date ideas.