Hints for Young Firemen to Improve Efficiency
My duty takes me to some towns where fires are very infrequent, and where the brigades consequently have had but few opportunities of showing their quality in fire extinction work, and it was primarily on their behalf and for their benefit, as well as for that of our younger firemen, that I have ventured to inflict the following notes on the conference, and for the which I claim your indulgence.
On an alarm of fire being given, the firemen must take the requisite appliances to the scene of the outbreak as speeuny as possible, place them in the best position for working the fire, set to work quietly and without excitement, being careful to manipulate the appliances smartly and intelligently. the officer in charge, on arrival, should make up his mind quickly as to his method of attack, and give his orders with promptitude and decision. Successful fire-fighting depends, to a very large extent, on the coolness and steadiness of those in charge. An excitable man at a fire is worse than useles.
Firemen will take orders only from their own officers. Do not listen to outsiders or allow them to interfere with your work; should any ouside assistance be necessary, the captain will see to it. It frequently happens that onlookers in their anxiety to render assistance at a fire do more harm than good. It is doubtless within the knowledge of almost every fireman that such is the case. When additional hose is necessary to give the branchman a better chance of working, do not allow anyone to drag on the lengths in use, as this frequently becomes a tug-of-war between the public on the one side and the hydrant or plug on the other, invariably to the detriment of the latter. Another man, “the kerbstone critic,” is much in evidence in our country towns, and he must be suppressed. He probably does not know a hydrant from a hand saw; nevertheless he can teach officers and men who have been trained to fire extinction work their duty. This man is worse than a nuisance, but an accidental squirt of water from the branch played on him has been known to act as a wholesome deterrent.
Noise, especially singing out in a loud voice, should be avoided. All unnecessary clamor leads to confusion, and tends to excite the crowd; besides, on the part of the firemen, it is a sign of weak discipline. Orders should be given as quietly as possible, passed from one to another, if necessary. Whistle calls—as orders— are much preferable to the voice. There is, or should be, a code of whistle calls in your brigade rules.
Should a fireman be on hand at the inception of a fire, it would be good business on his part to stop there, to close windows and doors, or keep them from being smashed in by outsiders. Let him send someone else to give the alarm.
Should a fire be confined to a closed building, do not cause a draught by breaking in doors or windows. I cannot emphasize this too strongly, my desire being to impress on firemen the disastrous effects that arise from the smashing in of windows and doors, especially in the early stages of a fire. A draught once being made, the fire will spread with great rapidity, and probably get beyond your control. When the brigade arrives let the entrances to lie made be as small as possible, consistent with the safety of the firemen and the working of the fire sucres fully.
Should smoke be showing in a building—even in great volume and no flame be visible, do not turn on the water until the seat of the fire is discovered, otherwise much unnecessary damage to building and contents will be the inevitable results. Playing water on the smoke, while the fire itself may be yards away, is bad brigade work. Some years since I attended (in an important country town) a fire in a large wholesale ironmongery warehouse, three stories high and having a basement cellar. When the brigade arrived, smoke was issuing from every crevice from the basement to the roof. Ladders were quickly raised to the topmost story, but on examination, no fire was visible, only smoke, neither was any fire seen down to the ground floor, but it was just then located in the cellar. Neither doors nor windows were allowed to be opened, and not a drop of water was used until the seat of the fire was located; the procedure, saving thousands of pounds worth of valuable property. It was an excellent example of not playing water on the building or smoke until the hre had been located.
In entering a building filled with smoke, do not do so in an upright position, but, having protected your mouth and nostrils with a handkerchief, woolen stocking, sponge, waste, or some such material—sponge for preterence—well saturated with water, and tied in a position so that your hands may be clear; crawl in on hands and knees, keeping the head as low as possible. Hot smoke being lighter than the ordinary atmosphere, always rises, and, for a time, there may be sufficient good air near the floor to enable you to breathe, to see the glare, and so locate the fire. As this smoke, which is poisonous, rises, some of it might be got rid of by making a perforation in the roof or window high up, but in such a manner as not to cause a draught.
In entering a building filled with smoke, to rescue the occupants, firemen must protect themselves in the manner just described, this precaution, combined with the “first aid” knowledge requisite to revive a person suffering from exhaustion from heat or smoke, is an important part of a fireman’s training.
No fireman should be allowed to enter alone any premises on fire, especially where there is much smoke. The first man usually takes the branch, but he should have the assistance of others close behind him to aid with the hose, and to help in case of danger. Smoke is the greatest enemy a fireman has to encounter, as he is practically working in the dark. On entering a building where it predominates, as an additional precaution, the men should keep close to the branch, as the force of the water on leaving the nozzle creates a little fresh air by driving a certain amount of the smoke away, in case of danger, also, in retreating, following the line of hose will lead you to safety.
Should a fire occur in a shop window—say a draper’s—use buckets or wet cloths to quench it. Do not smash the window. Small outbreaks, other than in windows, should be treated similarly. One of the most destructive fires that has ever occurred in Adelaide commenced in the window of an extensive drapery establishment, when, had a cool-headed person been at hand, a sprinkling of water would have extinguished the flames. Instead of this, the window was smashed, presumable by an outsider—we find this insane kind of man everywhere—and the fire spread at such an alarming rate that the immense building was soon a seething mass of flames. On going over the building that night with the then chief officer of the brigade, it was lamentable to see the immense destruction of valuable property, and food for reflection was given when we considered what a difference it would have made had only one levelheaded man been at hand when the fire broke out.
Wind, especially when heavy, is a very disturbing factor in working a fire. Unless you have a good pressure of water, you must not work with the wind or behind it; if you do so, it will beat you. With a poor pressure of water you cannot cope with a fire successfully by standing off and playing the water with the wind; by doing so you are simply wasting your energies. To reach the seat of the fire you must either meet the wind or cut into it at an angle; the officer in charge using his best judgment under such conditions.
The officer in charge of a brigade is invested with a great deal of authority. Should the outbreak be a serious one, and likely to spread, be is empowered, in order to stop the spread of the fire, to make gaps by pulling down fences, verandahs, or other structures that may be a source of danger, and should the urgency of the case warrant it, he can take his hose through adjacent or adjoining premises in order to work the fire to better advantage. I know of one small country town where the residents, tinder able direction, saved a large portion of a block of buildings by entirely demolishing a wooden structure, clearing away the debris and making a gap sufficiently wide to act as a break and stop the fire.
Do not pay too much attention to a building that is inevitably doomed. Let it go, and concentrate your efforts and forces in saving the adjoining buildings.
Where buildings are in close proximity, the best possible fire break is a blank brick wall, with a high parapet best of all, but, unfortunately, many of our country towns are guiltless of them. Men, however, should be placed in auvantageous positions to stop the fire from running over the wall and catching on to the roof of the adjoining buildings. Using buckets of water and blankets saturated with water will be found serviceable in this work. In one of our smaller country towns, having a poor water pressure, a serious fire took place, when a large portion of the block was undoubtedly saved by a contrivance used by the brigade as a fire break. It consisted of a hand truck, on which were placed about three dozen sheets of iron, eacn 13 feet 3 inches long—two 7-foot lengths riveted together. Taking advantage of a narrow rightof-way, this iron, sheet by sheet, was quickly placed on a wooden building on the side next the fire, and by occasionally playing water on it, it proved a most effective fire break. I saw the appliance in practise, and it took very little time to place the iron in position.
A steady man should act as branchman, especially at the inception of a fire, as the “savings” or “losses” will greatly depend on his manipulation of the branch and his use or abuse of the water. The indiscriminate use of water frequently does much greater damage than the fire. An inexperienced or excitable man at the branch is more likely to cause useless damage by his abuse of the water. The best fire brigade work is the extinguishing of the greatest amount, of fire with the least possible, quantity of water, as every gallon of water which does not directly strike the fire goes where it may cause considerable damage. Especially is it necessary to have an experienced man at the branch where valuable machinery and expensive commodities are in danger.
If the pressure be not good, one fair stream will do far more good than two poor ones, but always regulate your jets according to the supply. Given a poor volume and pressure at the hydrant, good results can be obtained, should the conditions admit, by using two plugs and hydrants, and two distinct mains, concentrating the two streams into one length of hose by the aid of a breeching piece, giving two waters into one; just the opposite to the Y coupling, which didvides one stream into two.
Should it be necessary to move hose, do not drag it oyer rough stones, corrugated iron, etc., but have it lifted and carried to the new position. Then always remember that it is the duty of the captain or officer in charge to see that the fire is thoroughly mastered before making up the appliancs.
If possible to prevent it, the public should not be allowed to interfere with goods or furniture, unless under proper supervision. The police will assist you in this, as well as in keeping clear space in which you may work.
Firemen, especially the officers, should make themselves acquainted with the structures of the principal business places, hotels, etc., in their own towns, and carefully note the position of staircases. cellars, exit doors, etc., as by doing so they will be the better enabled to work safely and to successfully cope with serious fires.
The storage positions for gunpowder, kerosene and other inflammable or explosive material should also be known. Acetylene gas plants for lighting purposes are frequently placed far too close to large dwelling houses, and they thus may become a menace to the safety of the occupants. The position of the plant should be known to the firemen; but especially so of the safety tap, so that the generator may be promptly emptied if deemed necessary.
A plan showing the size of the mains and positions of the hydrants should be conspicuously displayed in all fire stations. The captain, by periodical inspections, should see that every member of his brigade is thoroughly acquainted with the above, especially with the positions of the hydrants, which should always be kept dear and readily available to cope with fires.
*A paper read at the Fire Brigade Conference held recently at Brisbane. Australia, by T. S. Marshall, Chief Officer, Country Fire Brigades of Victoria.