How to Fight Fires in Frame Tenements

How to Fight Fires in Frame Tenements

Study of Typical Construction—Keeping the Fire from Entering Partitions—Locating and Estimating Intensity of the Fire

Chief Charles L. McCarthy

To prevent a fire is one thing and to fight it is another, and since it is necessary for me to deal with frame buildings as my subject, consideration must be given to “Fire-Fighting” in its active sense. That is, bow to deal with outbreaks in this type of building and the best methods of using apparatus.

The fire risk becomes more apparent as soon as it is realized that it is a menace to the home. The primal requisite, when a fire occurs in a frame building, is time. A few seconds lost may mean thousands of dollars more damage to property and perhaps the loss of a human life, the value of which cannot be measured in dollars and cents.

In connection with the matter of the time, it might be well to add, that the stretching in of hose lines at fires has been the subject of much comment, but when time is the paramount object, hose cannot be measured by the foot. However, when the location of the fire has been ascertained, the commanding officer of a Company should have a fairly good idea of the number of lengths required, and it shows poor training to see hose coiled in the streets in every direction at the site of the outbreak.

Shut Off Nozzle for Inside

Shut-off nozzles should be used for inside work wherever possible in order that the streams may be shut off as soon as possible. That is necessary, because in almost all frame buildings the floors are not filled, and if care should not be exercised in tbe use of water, the water would run by and through the floor boards, destroying the ceiling beneath and the furnishings of the lower floors. Also, wherever it is possible, in a confined fire, soda and acid chemicals should be used in place of water.

Let us consider for a moment one of the most hazardous of frame buildings. That in which there has been erected a store over which there are two, three or four tenements or apartments. We will suppose that the blaze has started in the store on the ground floor. Perhaps a general knowledge of the construction and arrangement of interior partitions may be helpful in an endeavor to confine the fire to the room, closet, hall or other point of origin. In this type of structure partitions are usually constructed as follows: A sleeper is laid on the floor board, a similar piece of timber is secured to the under side of the floor beam above, and to these are secured the studs, which are centered at an average of about sixteen inches.

Upon the studs, wood lath is nailed, and the plaster placed upon these laths. Sometimes it is found that ½-inch or 1/4-inch plaster board have been used in lieu of the lath and plaster. In stores where no rooms were originally intended, it is found that partitions have been constructed of ordinary tongued and groved boards. Too, the stairs leading to the cellar and leading to the tenements above are of wood, and all partitions are composed of wooden lath and plaster.

Keeping Fire from Partitions

To prevent the fire from reaching the soil pipes and getting through the partitions and by this means ascending to the top only to mushroom On the highest floor, is the first thing to be done. A line of hose should attack the fire from the front through the main door. The second line should go to the rear to cover the rear door and transom to stop the fire from spreading up the back stairs and piazzas, while ladders should be raised to the front of the building and all floors above should be examined to be sure that the fire has not followed through pipe recesses or vertical openings.

If the alarm has been turned in promptly a fire of this sort will be confined to the store where it originated. But if there has been a delay and the fire has burned through partitions and ceiling and has communicated with the floors above, a very different problem awaits the commanding officer. A line through the front and a line to the rear is once again in order, the line in front endeavoring to keep the flame from coming outside of the store and catching the curtains of an open window alove. If the fire is spreading, or has spread before you arrive, use the lines to confine it to the room or place where it originated. This method will control the fire and finally lead to its extinguishment.

“EXTREME, caution must be taken in this class of construction to guard against the spread of fire. While it is burning, take the precautions necessary by opening up the concealed spaces which permit the passage of fire and place the lines accordingly. After the fire is under control care must be taken to examine all openings and concealed spaces.”

By this time ladders would have been placed to the floors above, and in less time than it takes to tell chemical lines would have heen run to the floors above and especially to the top floor. This line is of the greatest importance, and if the position is reached quickly, the fire should lie prevented from mushrooming on the top floor. All pos ible effort should then be made to advance the lines to the seat of the fire, and here is where the men must take their medicine if need be. Life perhaps depends on their grit, determination and endurance, for work of this kind often entails severe trials. There is one more essential point to be guarded, namely, the partitions and vent pipes.

Examine False Work

In case of a fire in or around a partition, open it up until lath or studs show clean, especially at the closets. This is the point where a great amount of false work will be found, also a space from the top of the closet at the lath and plaster ceiling within the closet up to the under side of the floor above. When on the top floor it may extend to the attic. Look for a space on the floor boards at the sills of partitions, as fire may drop to lower ceilings through the space at this point.

False work at a chimney or flue, for the purpose of placing a mantel in front of a chimney or flue should be thoroughly examined. Many of these are found in frame tenements and consist of the placing of studs alongside of a chimney or flue, and then applying lath and plaster to furring strips placed on the face of the chimney; this leaves an open space both at the sides of the chimney and on its face, extending from the floor to under side of floor boards above. If on the top floor, the opening may extend to the attic. In many cases this space will extend throughout from the first floor to the attic. False work may also be found around and over closets, alcoves and folding or sliding doors. Every partition being a vertical flue and there being very few fire stops the lath should be stripped until it is satisfactorily proved that there are no nests of fire concealed behind the plaster. This disposition of forces should successfully handle a fire of such character.

We will next consider an outbreak which has occurred in the cellar of a frame building.

Locating First Streams

The first objective is to confine the blaze. If there are windows to the cellar it is a comparatively easy matter to locate the seat of the fire, but if there are no windows and it is impossible to make the stairway or bulk-head, a bad condition exists.

By the intensity of the heat on the floor or surrounding walls one is sometimes enabled to judge where it would be best to place the first stream. All haste should be given to cutting a hole in the floor and dropping a cellar pipe into this hole. The cellar pipe should be of a type that would enable the operator to turn the nozzle in all directions. This would insure the hitting of the flame at least once in every revolution. As Soon as the cellar has been cooled and sufficiently ventilated to allow entrance by the stairway or bulk-head, a line should be taken into the cellar so as to extinguish any blaze that might have jumped or burned through the cellar partitions. The number of holes to be cut into the cellar would be determined by the intensity of the blaze. Bulk-heads are usually found where there is a store on the first floor, and where there is an entrance from outside in front. The object of a bulk-head is to partition off space for some particular opening, consequently there is left an open space behind this partition. This again must be carefully searched for hidden sparks and fire.

In the case of a fire in a cellar which has a furnace to heat the premises, examine the heater pipes and wall and floor registers on all floors, as streams which have been thrown in the cellar may knock down the hot air pipes and sparks will .often sift up through the open registers into the various rooms above.

Most Troublesome Fire

Rear piazza fires are the most troublesome of all fires in this type of building, as they are constructed entirely of wood with a metal ash chute running the entire height of the building from the cellar through the different floors to the top floor. This single ash chute is used by all the various tenants for the depositing of ashes and sometimes paper and other combustible material is slyly deposited therein. Many times a tenant will carry out the hot ashes from the kitchen range and in throwing them into the chute some of the hot ashes will drop onto the wood floor unnoticed, and in a short space of time there is a fire going merrily. By the time this fire is discovered and the Department summoned the whole rear end of the building is a mass of flames.

Worcester, Mass., being known as the home of the three-decker, has a large number of such fires during the course of a year, and the method of extinguishment used is as follows:

Lines Carried Up Front Stairway

The first company to arrive lays a water line to the rear of the building and knocks down the fire from the ground, cooling it off as much as possible before trying to make the stairway. The following companies carry chemical lines up the front stairway to each floor, opening windows as fast as possible, at the same time working their way to the rear of each flat to see that the rear doors of each flat are closed and to prevent the flames from spreading into each of the flats. This method generally confines the fire to the rear piazzas and stairways.

Some of the Many Who Made Portland Convention a Success This photograph was taken on New Year’s day in front of the Central Fire Station, Portland, Ore. To those who are now shoveling snow, how pleasant it must be to note that Captain Fred B. Day on the left and Captain Edward L. Boatright on the right are minus their coats Capt Day had charge of the autos at the Portland I. A. F. C. convention and Capt Boatright was chairman of the Ladies’ Entertainment Committee. Battalion Chief William R. Heath, in the center, was in charge of transportation and hotels. The squad wagon was recently placed in service.

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Fighting Fires in Frame Tenements

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In general the foregoing are the most important points to remember in the fighting of fires in frame tenements and buildings. While the usual precautions should be taken, such as prevail in fire practice, extreme caution must he taken at fires in this class of construction, to guard against the spread of fire, and to this end the following summary will be of valuable assistance:

Remember the object is to confine the fire, then control and extinguish it.

While the fire is burning, observe where it is burning, and what chance it has to spread, or how it might spread; and take the precautions necessary by opening Up the concealed spaces which permit the passage of fire and place the lines accordingly.

After the fire is under control or practically extinguished, care must he taken to examine all openings and concealed spaces for fire.

It is a good fire practice, after every fire, and before you leave the building, to examine the floors above and below the fire; feeling around the walls, and around pipe and shaft openings, and make sure that there is no fire left behind, so that there will be no chance of a rekindle.

Judgment must be exercised by officers in sending for assistance. The construction of the building is known, also how the fire may travel and what may result from a delay in calling for assistance. If the fire is found spreading on arrival, don’t hesitate in sending for help. Supposing for instance that a fire has made headway in an attic, and upon arrival smoke or fire is found coming from the cornices, would it not be reasonable to assume that the fire was spreading, and that help was needed to confine this fire to its point of origin? Remember that many times one may be left to his own resources and to judge for himself, as the chief of battalion or other officers may be absent at another fire.

Many Misread N. Y. Captain Exam. Question—A number of candidates for promotion in the New York city captain’s examination erred in reading “thirteenth” floor for “thirtieth” floor. On the whole, the candidates are well pleased with the questions on the test sheets and not more than two left the examination hall without finishing the test.

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