IMPROVED HARBOR FIRE SERVICE NECESSARY.
The recent disastrous fire at Hunter’s Point, caused by an explosion of benzine on board the bark Nictaux, the necessity for increased harbor fire service was made apparent. Commenting on this subject, the Scientific American said : The Nictaux was loaded with 2800 barrels of naphtha, which exploded from some cause unknown, and set fire to the barks Antoinette and Cyclone, and two barges loaded with petroleum. The tug fire boat Havemeyer, which had three lines of hose of 3000 feet in length, and which did the work of three Steam Fire Engines, was assisted by the New York and Brooklyn Departments, but the vessels were totally destroyed. It is said that if the Havemeyer had been provided with a ram so as to be able to scuttle the burning ships as soon as it became evident that the Engines were unable to subdue the fire, the ships as well as the cargoes would have been saved with comparatively little loss. “ If ’’ is a troublesome monosyllable, and lies at the bottom of a vast amount of irresolution, inactivity, and failure. Without reference to the question whether an ordinary harbor fire boat could stand the strain and collision of a ramming apparatus powerful enough to stave in the side of a vessel, the suggestion of such a crude and primitive expedient in this age of boasted improvement seems strangely out of place in a journal devoted to scientific advancement. The application of torpedoes for scuttling purposes as further suggested, is more in consonance with the spirit of the times. They could be loaded with the most approved explosives, and attached to the burning ship so as to knock a hole in the bottom, by competent men in a row boat, and then be exploded by electricity from a safe distance. In case where the vessel’s cargo consists of naphtha, or other highly inflammable substances, the torpedo might be applied by means of a properly rigged spar on the harbor Fire Boat. It will be remembered in this connection, that the Nictaux while on fire was towed into the stream, and finally stranded. The shore fire caused by her burning was extinguished and all danger supposed to be over. Next day, however, the Nictaux, still on fire, was released by the tide and floated into a creek where considerable Shipping laid. The benzine with which she was loaded was released by the flames, and spread out upon the water a perfect sea of flame. By this means a second fire was started that exceeded in destructiveness that of the first day. The Fire Boat Havemeyer did excellent service on this occasion, but this fire served to emphasize a fact long well-known, viz., that one Fire Boat is by no means sufficient for service in our harbor. The Fire Commissioners have asked for authority and money to build a new boat especially designed for fire service, and which shall embrace all the appliances that experience has proved to be most serviceable for fighting fire in the harbor or along the river fronts.
The Baltimore Underwriter treats of the same subject, claiming that the number of Fire Boats in our harbors is so small as to be out of all proportion to the Steam Fire Engines in our cities. Some of our large cities have no boats of this character, others have but one. Their necessity, not only (or the protection of the shipping, but for reinforcement of the Fire Department in its efforts to save from destruction the property along the wharves, is obvious enough to penetrate the thick skull of the average city councilman, but when the councilman is asked for an appropriation to this urgently needed form of security he turns a deaf ear to the voice of entreaty. In this city efforts have been vainly made to obtain such an accession to the regular Department. The utility of a Fire Boat was illustrated a few days ago at Locust Point, the tug Convoy, which belongs to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, having promptly extinguished a fire on board the steamer Scranton at a point which could not have been effectually reached by land engines. Of course, in case of fire like that at Hunter’s Point, when burning oil rapidly spreads over the surface of the water, and communicates with adjacent vessels or other property, a fleet of such harbor boats would be needed to limit the area of destruction. One boat equipped for scuttling in the manner indicated would suffice to sink any ship if it were on the spot early. But a boat of sufficient size for harbor fire extinguishment would not have resisting power enough to withstand the impetus necessary to make a ramming apparatus effective. Moreover, at an advanced stage of a fire a boat provided with a ram might not be able to approach near enough, by reason of the intensity of the heat, and especially the furnace heat of petroleum or naphtha, to break the side of a burning vessel. The torpedo will answer the purpose infinitely better, and it should be made a part of the regular equipment of every Fire Boat.