INSIDE VIEW OF THE CHICAGO FIRE DEPARTMENT.
[WRITTEN FOR THE JOURNAL BT “SPARK.”]
In a late issue of THE JOURNAL appears an article, taken from a daily paper, headed, “How Fires are Put Out in New York.” I cannot say that I coincide with the enthusiastic people who say the New York Fire Department is the best in the world. There are several cities who claim and who have just as good Departments as New York, and I have the honor of representing one of them. We have the same disadvantages to contend against that New York complains of, viz., tenement houses, eight-inch brick walls built to a great height, pine floors and partitions. We have, on an average, five fires a day ; we have also a large fire every week or two, but in the majority of cases manage to check them within a r asonable loss. We have everything the world has to offer in improved fire apparatus, ai d our Firemen are turned out to special pattern in accord with the ap[ aratus.
I take exception to the assertion that ” for the best work in the l-ast possible time, for dash, bravery and esprit du corps, it is doubtful whether the New York Fire Department has any t qual in the world.” I think the Chicago Di panment can t qual, if not excel, the New York Department. In support of my assertion, a lit le description of how fins are put out in Chicago will not be amiss. Our Enginehouses are all two-story brick buildings, with basement and tower. In from of the door stands the Hose Cariiage, with the Engine standing back of it in line. Hack of the Engine are the horses stalls, fronting towards the door. On the second floor are the officers rooms and dormitory, which is supplied with beds for the men and also a closet for each. In a great number of the houses the sleeping-rooms are fitted up in elegant style, the expense being defrayed by the members and, in some cases, by enthusiastic citizens. The basement is used for storing purposes, and the heater is also kept there.
Each house is supplied with what is known as a Joker, which consists ol a teginUr and a Morse key and sounder. Wtien a fire is discovered, the person who turns in the alarm has only to turn the handle of the alarm box to the light to open it — each box having a Tookcr keyless door. When the handle is turned it rings a large vibrating gong attached 10 it, and which can be heard for several blocks disant, thereby warning every person in the immediate vicinity. Heretofore, during the regime of the locked boxes, valuable time was wasted in hunting the place or person who had a key, and any one possessing a key could turn in an alarm unnoticed. Thus false alarms have been obviated, to a great extern, by the use of the l ooker door. The person turning the alarm, upon opening the door, pulls down a brass hook inside the box. Each box is numbered by a notched wheel. The pulling of the hook releases this wheel, allowing it to revolve, which alarms the antral office by ringing a vibrating gong, and also pointing on an indicator the number of the line the box is on. The operator immediately turns up the adjustment on that line, and by ear receives the first round from the box— ilu; wheel in the box making three revolutions—then, by throwing a switch over, he gives the two succeeding rounds, directly from the box to the Jokers in the houses. Ihe alarm comes very rapidly, and is printed out on the Joker in each house. In the meanwhile the dials are set, and it is struck on all the gongs an I bells. I here are two gongs in each house—one in the sleeping-room and one attached to the Joker. When the circuit is opened it releases an arrangement known as a ” chain dropper,” which is a hammer attached to a wheel, kept in place by a small projection, and is made to revolve rapidly and strike the gong by rebasing a weight, making a racket that would wake the dead. It also releases a weight, whick jerks a wire that releases the fastening on the stall doors—the doors being hung on spring hinges, fly open. The same weight works a tcvolvmg whip, which is placed at the back of each stall. At night it turns on the gas.
The harness is kept constantly on the backs of the horses, except where the swinging harness is used, and they are trained to run to their places upon the opening of the stall door, which opens outwards,-and the horse stands with his head towards the front door. Each member of the Company has a certain portion of the hitching assigned to him. The horses are hitched, the driver is in his place, the Engineer has his brass torch lit, and the Captain or Lieutenant stands by the joker and takes the alarm. If it be in their district he pulls a knob at his ride which opens the large doors, and, in a loud voice, says, ” pull out,” at the same time giving directions where to go to. The apparatus is always in the street before the gong commences to strike. Upon leaving the house the Engineer applies his torch to the furnace, and by the time the fire is reached he has 70 or 80 pounds of steam on, or sufficient power to throw a good stream. The first alarm calls out a nuqiber of Engines, Chemicals and Trucks. A second and third alarm call out additional apparatus. The general alarm, known as 6-11, calls out the entire Department. A special call on tegister is 10, followed by the number of the Company wanted is given and station and signature of officer or assistant sending out the callFire out is designated by one blow on all the gongs and bells. If there should be a second or third fire at the same time, the signal will be two blows or three blows, as the case may be, to indicate which fire Is out. In case of a second or third alarm, the outlying Companies move in one station nearer on each alarm, thereby covering the unprotected district left so by the Company responding to the alarm and also thdr own district.
Our Department is d vided into seven battalions, each having a Chief, and each Company having a Captain and Lieu enant. The first officer arriving at a fire has command until his superior arrives. The Chief of Battalion assumes com” mand upon his arrival, until relieved by the Chief or Assistant Chief. The Chief of Battalion goes to all fires in his district. The Chief and Assistant Chief take in a large district on the first alarm, and the whole city on the second alarm. At a fire all orders are given with the arms in daylight and at night by colored lanterns. Each company has a Captain, Lieutenant, Engineer, Assistant Engineer, two drivers and three pipemen. The Captain takes charge of the Hose carriage while the Lieutenant takes charge of the Engine. The Engineer runs the Engine and the Assistant does the ” stoking.” I he pipemen take charge of the hose under the direction, of the Lieutenant. Each Engine has constantly between 15 and 20 pounds of steam on while standing in the house, there being a small steam boiler kept in the basement, known as a beater, which is connected with the Engine and supplys the steam. It is so arranged that when the Engine leaves the house the steam is shut off and the connections part automa ically. In the tight-hand corner of the room are located the telegraph instruments and the telephone. The officer in charge of the house is supposed to watch this at all times, answer all messages and signals. At night two men are kept on watch, one on the floor and one in the tower, from 10 P. M. to 6 A. M. The sleeping room is on the second floor, and there arc three sliding poles placed in different positions leading to the floor below. Each man has his rubber coat and fire hat in the place where he rides on ihe apparatus. Upon going to bed he slips his pantaloons down over the legs of his hoots, and places them alongside his bed, sleeping in his underclothes. In case of an alarm he steps out of bed info his pants and boots. In the Truck Companies the pants and boots, or as they are called, ” Bunkers,” are kept on the foot-board of the Truck, the men steeping into their clothes when they step on ihe ‘I ruck.