How the Fire Chief Regards Automatic Sprinklers

How the Fire Chief Regards Automatic Sprinklers

Some Interesting Replies to a Questionnaire Asking for Facts as to the Use Chiefs Make of This Device—Opinion as to Its Usefulness

THE extent to which the average chief of the fire department regards the automatic sprinkler as a valuable ally in fire-fighting is considered in the following paper, with interesting results, especially as its authority is found in replies to a questionnaire sent out to the fire chiefs of the New England States:

This subject treated in this paper may be termed otherwise: “Co-operation Between Human Firemen and Their Most Valuable Ally, the Automatic Fireman.” Unquestionably there is a definite relationship of this sort and to get the point of view of the human firemen about it a question letter was sent to the members of the New England Association of Fire Chiefs. Otherwise stated the purpose of the questionnaire, was to get from the most practical source, chiefs of fire departments, information about the practices that obtain in making use of automatic sprinklers as fire defense auxiliaries. Beyond question is the fact that automatic sprinklers are an important means of controlling conflagration conditions in cities and modifying responsibilities of fire departments, also a valuable auxiliary in fire department operations.

Chief on Sprinklers as a Practical Help

Among answers to the question, “What do you think about automatic sprinklers as a practical help to firemen?” are the following:

“There would be something wrong with the fellow that would say a sprinkler system is not a help to fire departments. We consider the automatic sprinkler a fireman on the job, with a supply of water, twenty-four hours a day.”

“I can’t say too much for the automatic sprinkler. It is possible for it to operate immediately upon the start of a fire, and in the most inaccessible places where a human being could not go, or, in fact, live. The automatic sprinkler is without question the most effective fire extinguishing agent.”

“I have absolute confidence in the automatic sprinkler. It is the best friend the fireman ever had or will have. Its value is not sufficiently realized nor appreciated by business interests.”

“If automatic sprinklers were used more commonly America’s fire loss would be cut to a very small amount.”

“I consider them to be the most efficient and practical method of discovering, controlling and preventing the spread of fire.”

Fire Department Connections to Sprinklers

The fundamental purpose of automatic sprinkler systems as fire defense auxiliaries comprehends the use of them by fire departments in getting water into fires. For this purpose standard automatic sprinkler systems in cities and towns are generally equipped with hose connections for fire department use, which are required by the fire underwriters.

According to information received in response to the question letter most of the sprinkler systems in most of the larger and in some of the smaller cities in the New England States are equipped with fire department connections, and a fair proportion in some others. In some large cities there are only a few, and in some small cities and towns none at all.

To some extent, possibly, one reason for the scarcity of fire department connections is explained by one response: “Some of them have. Others are connected direct to the city water mains.”

But despite the extent of these connections only several fire departments in the largest cities follow a definite practice in making use of them. In most of the cities where they are used at all this is done according to the discretion of fire department officers commanding at fires.

Methods in Making Use of Connections Vary

The methods of making use of fire department connections vary considerably. In one city the first company responding connects immediately, in another, the second. In others the first, second or third company on orders, if thought desirable or necessary. In only a few cities is pressure immediately pumped up after connections are made, and maintained until fire is located. In some others pressure would be pumped up after fire is located.

Where connections are made according to judgment this is determined for the most part after fires are located, and in a few cities before. Estimates of conditions determining judgment vary. In only one city is there a standing rule or order concerning the practice to be followed in making use of fire department connections, and, in another city instructions in practice are given in the drill school.

Because sprinkler systems have direct connections to public water supplies is one of the principal reasons given for not making use of fire department connections. Another is that the automatic sprinklers usually have controlled the fires. One chief said: “It is simply because where a sprinkler head has gone off it has always put out the fire and taken care of the situation.”

The procedure followed fires in sprinklered buildings in respect of laying water or chemical lines or carrying portable extinguishers is generally the same as at all fires. For the most part these would not be used before determining if fire were under control by the automatic sprinklers but in some cases they would be.

Only few fire departments would pump water through a sprinkler system before using water or chemical lines. A chief who would do this said: “Distribution of sprinkler heads would coved area involved more efficiently than a single line of hose and with less water.”

“Some fire departments have established a practice of periodical inspections of sprinklered properties. The periods are mainly monthly, some daily, weekly, semi-monthly, quarterly and semiannually. A number of departments do not make any inspections.”

The Question of the Shutting Off of Water

That water shall not be shut off from sprinkler systems until fire is out, or under control by sprinklers is required by many fire departments. In some cities the water is shut off regardless of whether or not the fire is under control, as soon as it is located, and in some immediately on arrival of fire department before the fire is located.

Among the conditions remarked that determine decision to shut off water are: When fire under control; when fire department can handle fire; to enable men to work; to save water damage.

Gienerally water is shut off under fire department direction; in some cities under direction of occupants. In most cities members of fire departments shut valves; in some this is done by fire patrol, protective department or salvage corps; and in a few cities by employees of occupants. While there is not any established rule or practice about shutting off water some fire departments require a fireman to stand by shut-off valve ready to close it on signal, and to stay there ready to open it, if necessary. A reason given for a fire department not shutting off water is that “plant engineer most capable.” In one city the chief has instructed occupants to not shut off water before arrival of the fire department.

Restoring the Sprinkler System to Service

Automatic sprinklers opened in fires are replaced by new ones, water turned on and sprinkler systems restored to service before fire departments leave premises in many cities. In some not at all. One chief said: “This is a very important matter.” It certainly is.

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The ideas about the need for this are summed up in the response from one chief who said: “That the system may be in service in the event of another fire.” “We have no authority to require such action, however, it is customary,” remarked one chief. Another said: “If not done by occupant authority should be given fire department.” Another chief considers this to be the “duty of the occupant.”

The act of restoring sprinkler systems to service is done more often by employees of occupants than by fire departments. In some cities firemen are drilled to do this. Fire departments in a few cities carry automatic sprinklers for replacement purposes, as also do fire patrols, where there are any, but for the most part the necessary new sprinklers are found in extra supply kept in most sprinklered properties. One chief said: “We have yet to ask for extra heads and he refused.” Some fire departments require occupants to maintain a supply of extra sprinklers. The chief of one department which does not, said: “No authority given.”

Some Reasons for Not Restoring System

Among reasons given for fire departments not restoring sprinkler systems to service are the following:

“Firemen have enough to do to pick up and get ready for another call and we can always find some one in any building with a sprinkler system in it to do this and do it right.”

“It is up to the insurance people and the owner.”

“Plants where sprinkler systems are installed have experienced men for that purpose.”

“It is not the business of the fire department.”

“It is up to the owners to look after their own property.”

On the other hand, others said:

“Should not be any reason for fire department not doing it.”

“The fire department does do it. We prefer to know that the water is on in any building for our own protection.”

“The fire department in this town is always glad to do this, if required. But if work can be done by employees of plant it releases so many more firemen who can return to quarters.”

Of course there is an open question about the responsibility fire departments assume in restoring sprinkler systems to service, which requires most careful consideration. It has been said that fire underwriters might object to this procedure.

Familiarity of Fire Officers with Connections

Quite generally officers of fire departments throughout New England are familiar with the sprinkler systems in their jurisdictions, the locations of shut-off valves and the parts of systems they control, and in some cities the rank and file of companies have this knowledge in their respective districts.

This knowledge has been acquired mainly by independent inspections and in company of employees of occupants. In some cities additional knowledge has been gained by particular study and drill school instruction.

Periodical Inspections and Records

Some fire departments have established a practice of periodical inspections of sprinklered properties. The periods are mainly monthly, some daily, weekly, semi-monthly, quarterly and semi-annually. A number of departments do not make any inspections.

A record of sprinklered properties is kept by some departments. A few keep tabs on the condition of equipments. Many do not. One chief who does said:

“We insist that when the system is to be shut off for any reason the department be notified. The time is entered in the company journal, commanding officers of companies arc notified and the time of notification when service is restored is recorded. When system is to be out of commission over night in industrial plants without a watchman, officials are requested to have a night watchman in premises.”

A few fire departments have in their files complete descriptions of sprinkler systems, either in the shape of plans or in written reports of their inspectors. But mainly they do not have this information. Some fire departments keep a record of fires controlled by sprinklers. A number do not. Only a few make it a particular point to get this information. Some request occupants of sprinklered properties to return it.

(Excerpts from paper read before the annual convention of the New England Association of Fire Chiefs at Boston, Mass.)

Philadelphia will Acquire Three Water Companies—The city council of Philadelphia, Pa., has passed an ordinance, which two public service commissioners have approved, that involves the acquisition by the city of three privately owned water companies. The companies include the Philadelphia & Bristol Water Co., the Holmesburg Water Co., and the Disston Water Co. The purchase price covering the entire transaction is $854,610.

Mound, Minn., Fire Department Agitates for Motor Apparatus—The members of the Mound. Minn., volunteer fire department are agitating for motorized fire equipment. At present the department has a two-tank hand chemical apparatus which they draw to fires. The members, 25 strong, have been hauling the two-tank chemical apparatus around on a truck as an object lesson to the villagers. A citizen of the town has offered to sell them an old Pierce-Arrow touring car and the members are planning to rip off the body and mount the chemical apparatus on the chassis. This they claim can he done for $400 or $500 and this amount they are trying to raise by popular subscription.

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