Inability to Reach Control Valves Handicaps Marquette Firemen
The control valves for the sprinkler system being inaccessible to the firemen proved a severe handicap to Chief William J. Johnston and the Marquette, Mich., fire department when fire recently occurred in the Pioneer Iron Furnace Company’s plant, the building being a complete loss. Explosives of acetone and alcohol tanks burst the 4 and 6-inch feeders to the syrinkler system. The company’s mains were connected with the city mains with check valves between. The city main is 8 inches, with four city hydrants in the yards. The company has a complete system of mains and hydrants, fire alarm system, etc., and a pumping capacity of 15,000,000 gallons in twenty-four hours. When the sprinkler mains were destroyed, the city pressure was reduced from 90 pounds to practically nothing. The east wall of the building was blown out, falling on two of the controlling valve standards, crushing them to the ground so that they could not be operated until the fire had cooled enough to permit of the use of pick and shovel to dig them out of the debris, and the other valves equipment of the destroyed building were located close up to the south end. At this point the intense heat from burning alcohol and powder grade acetone, aside from the constant danger from explosives, made it impossible to reach the valves. Chief Johnston said if these valves could have been shut the four city hydrants inside the yards would have been available at once with a pressure of 90 pounds, and would have been a valuable addition to the company’s equipment. The fire started from an explosion, the cause of which is not known, and originated in the northern end of the building, which was constructed of galvanized iron over wood and with the inside lined with brick. A watchman discovered the fire at 12,50 a. m., and the company’s fire whistle was blown and an alarm telephoned to the city fire department. Chief Johnston found the entire north end of the building in flames and large copper tanks filled with acetone and wood alcohol exploding at intervals and sending up sheets of flames. The heat from the burning alcohol and acetone was intense, adding to the danger and difficulties of the twenty-five firemen, under Chief Johnston. He had a hose sleigh and ladder equipment, besides the company’s hand carts. Hydrants were 200 feet apart, and six hydrant streams were directed on the burning building. By dint of hard and efficient work the fire was brought under control in three hours. By skillful work the fire was practically confined to the building in which the explosion took place.