Interesting Notes on European Fire Departments

Interesting Notes on European Fire Departments

George F. Cobb, Traffic Manager. New England Fire Chiefs. Investigates Foreign Methods—Noticeable Difference in Efficiency in Various Cities

GEORGE F. COBB, of Boston and Brookline, well known “fire fan” and president of the Curtis and Pope Lumber Company, has just returned from a three months’ trip abroad during which he visited many foreign countries and had several thrilling experiences. He has always been interested in fire departments and fire prevention and is traffic manager for both the Fire Chiefs’ Club of Massachusetts and the New England Association of Fire Chiefs.

During his trip Mr. Cobb took occasion to visit the fire brigades in the various cities that he passed through. He found some unique pieces of equipment and many strange customs prevailing. He stopped first at Madeira and then went to Cadiz, Seville, and Granada in Spain; thence to Algcrciras,. Algiers, Tunis, Athens, Constantinople, Haifa, Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo, Alexandria, Naples, Monte Carlo, Nice, Southampton, and London. He crossed on the steamship “Homeric,” of the White Star Line, and returned on the “Olympic” of the same line. He was accompanied on the trip by Mrs. Cobb.

Geo. F. Cobb, Traffic Manager, New England Fire Chiefs

Madeira Has Hand Apparatus, While That of Algiers is Motorized

In Madeira the majority of the streets are about six feet wide and paved with small cobble stones. Transportation is handled by sleds which arc hauled by mules and bullocks. A small boy walks alongside and greases the runners every now and then with an oily rag. The head of the fire brigade is Chief Agostinho Figueira de Souza and the equipment consists of a hose reel and chemical and an “escape,” all pulled by hand. The brigade is composed of thirty firemen, all Portugese.

In Algiers Mr. Cobb was surprised to discover motor apparatus of English manufacture including small sized gasoline pumping engines of the Leyland and Dennis type and motor driven “escapes” as the foreign hook and ladder trucks are called. Gas masks and up-to-date equipment was in use, having been introduced by the French officers who govern the country under a protectorate.

Athens Has Only 200 Fires Per Annum, While Constantinople Has Heavy Losses

The Athens fire brigade was under control of the Greek army and regular military discipline prevailed. Lieutenant Constantin Spyridakis was in charge. There is no water system in Athens and for fire service two huge portable water tanks, each of 1500 gallons capacity, arc mounted on motor trucks and taken to the scene of the blaze. The engines then pump from these tanks. The city has a population of 200,000, but owing to the prevailing stone construction the average number of fires is only 200 per year.

In Constantinople, that melting pot of all races, the fire chief has an interpreter as aid. There is a large circular fire station with the apparatus drawn up facing in the direction of a central door. The “escape” with its big two wheel base was mounted on a Peerless commercial truck body. Portable water tanks are also used here, but the flimsy, frame construction of many of the houses is the cause of numerous sweeping fires, a high wind being all that is needed to develop a minor blaze into a conflagration of the first magnitude. The populace obtain drinking water from old wells and fountains, using discarded standard oil cans in which to carry the water in preference to the old style stone jugs.

English Officers in Charge in Alexandria and Cairo

English officers are in charge of the fire brigades in Alexandria and Cairo with motor apparatus and a three platoon system. B. I. Jones is chief in Cairo, the officers being British and the privates natives of Egypt. A part of the work of this brigade consists in rescuing people from collapsed buildings and from cisterns. During 1925 the brigade answered 102 rescue calls including one alarm for a mule caught in a drainage ditch and brought out alive with padded grappling hooks and a block and tackle. The special rescue equipment used by the brigade was invented by thief Jones. In Alexandria Mr. Cobb was shown over the fire stations by Asst. Chief W. P. Rivers.

A Fireboat on the River Nile, with the Boat in Action in the Lower Picture

Weekly Drill by London Fire Brigade

While in the English capital Mr. Cobb witnessed the weekly drill of the London fire brigade. This is held in the square at the rear of the headquarters building and the public is admitted by ticket. Following an exhibition of ladder work and carrying dummies down the escapes a realistic fire scene was enacted. Smoke pots and red fire were set off in an upper story of the building and an alarm turned in from a nearby fire box. The apparatus responded in quick order, laid two lines of hose, and soon had two streams of water playing on the imaginary fire. Then a concert was given by the fire brigade band and visitors were shown through the station. The English firemen arc very picturesque appearing in action with their navy style uniforms and shining brass helmets.

Chief De Souza, of the Madeira, Portugal, Fire Brigade, with One of the Hand Fire Engines in the Background

The old hand fire engines and other relics in the London Museum interested Mr. Cobb, also the monument erected to mark the spot where the Great Eire of London started.

Efficient Traffic System in London

Traffic conditions abroad were also investigated by Mr. Cobb who reports that the London traffic police or “Bobbies” are a wonderfully efficient force. All vehicles keep to the left and turn to the left. There are no surface trolley cars in the centre of London and no parking of cars along the sides of streets is permitted. Passenger traffic is largely handled by the motor buses and there is little congestion. The only parking allowed is in squares or the centres of broad avenues. All taxicabs remain at their stands in the middle of the streets until signalled. Mr. Cobb bad several interviews with Suffield Mylius, traffic advisor of the London police in Scotland yard. In Palestine Mr. Cobb also found a neat appearing and efficient police traffic squad.

Motor Apparatus with Escape of Bristol, England, Fire Brigade

The low fire loss in most European countries Mr. Cobb attributes to the stone construction rather than to the fire protection equipment. Lack of house heating equipment, carefulness of the people, and in some countries a personal liability law contribute to the small loss. In many places he found no fire alarm telegraph system at all, the telephone being relied on for receiving reports of fires.

Report of the Bristol, England, Fire Brigade

Supt. F. Cade, director of the fire brigade in Bristol, England, showed Mr. Cobb over the stations and gave him a copy of the report for last year from which the following extracts are taken:

“The total number of calls received for fires within the city and county of Bristol for the year ending December 31, 1924, was 534, a decrease of 7 from the year previous. Of the 534 calls only 66 were received through the street fire alarms.

Type of Flimsy Structures which Make Constantinople's High Fire Loss.A Traffic Cop in Memphis, Egypt.A Company of the Soldierly Appearing Athens, Greece, Fire Brigade

“The number of actual fires was 219, one being of a serious nature. There were 274 calls to chimney fires, 178 of which were attended by police and 96 by the brigade. Forty-one false alarms were received. 8 of which were given maliciously, 5 through the street fire alarm system and 3 by teclphone. The number of malicious false alarms was one less than in the previous year. Six persons, including four firemen, sustained slight injuries at fires during the year. Motor turbine pumping engines were used at six fires as follows: Jan. 29, steamship “Clan Mackenzie,” Avonmouth Docks; Feb. 14. contractor’s shed at Sea Mills occupied by Messrs. Nott, Brodie & Co.; March 29 and 30, the premises of Messrs. W. G. Vowles, Ltd., organ builders, St. James’ Square; May 24, a hayloft at Wee Lane, St. Werburgh’s, occupied by G. Hedges; July 31, a hayrick at Shirehampton owned by Mr. J. F. Hort; and Oct. 9, Messrs. Bryants’ Boot Factory, St. George.

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Central Fire Brigade Headquarters, Cairo, Egypt

“The Fire Float (fireboat) ’The Bristol Phoenix’ was not employed at any fire during the year. There were 20,661 fire hydrants and plugs inspected by the brigade in company with an official of the Bristol Water Works. 117 visits were paid to theatres, music halls, cinema halls, and other public buildings to inspect fire appliances. A turncock, in the employ of the Bristol Water Works Company, was on duty at the Central Fire Station nightly, and attended with the brigade all fires occurring at night. By arrangement, the St. John ambulance corps attended with an ambulance wagon all calls of fire to which a fire engine responded.”

The equipment of the Bristol fire brigade is listed as including the following: motor tender with first aid and ladders; motor turbines with first aid and escapes; motor turbines with first aid and ladders; motor tender with ladders, fire floats, motor turntable ladder, hand hose carts with ladders, scaling and Pompier ladders, fire escapes, inspection car, hose, extincteurs, hand pumps, stand pipes, branch pipes, nozzles, jumping sheets, life lines, canvas buckets, smoke helmets, and converting spigots.

Among the causes of fires the following are listed: beams in chimney, candles and lights left burning, children playing with fire and matches, drapery in contact with lights, defective flues and hearths, defective electric lighting installations, fat and grease boiling over, friction of machinery, hot ashes and sparks, leakage of gas in contact with light, back-firing of motor, overheating of furnaces, paraffin and lamp accidents, pitch boiling over, sparks from engine, spontaneous combustion, and vapour in contact with light.

Program of London Fire Brigade Drills

The headquarters of the London Fire Brigade which is maintained by the London County Council are situated in Southwark Bridge Road and A. R. Dyer is the chief officer. The following is the program of drill by firemen under instruction and by permanent members of the London Fire Brigade:

Superintendent Cade and Aids, of the Bristol, England, Fire Brigade
  1. Drill with scaling ladders.
  2. Picking up insensible persons, showing “fireman’s lift.”
  3. Demonstration orf the extinction of a petrol fire.
  4. Display by Emergency Tender, equipped with smoke helmets, searchlights and clusters, oxy-acetylene cutting plant, and fresh air blower. Restoring persons overcome by smoke, etc.
  5. Use of lumping Sheet.
  6. Drill with Motor Turntable Ladders.
  7. Rescue of persons by a hook ladder crew, working from the roof. First aid and removal of injured persons by the London Ambulance Service.
  8. Fire Occurrence: (a) Rescue by Escape from Second Floor.
  9. Rescue from tower by lines.

    Motor Pump at work from hydrant to extinguish fire.

  10. Drill with obsolete manual pump built in 1890.
  11. District Call: This, for ordinary fires in London, involves the sending out of from 10 to 20 motor pumps. On the present occasion only three will be used.
  12. The drill will conclude with a general turn-out of appliances from headquarters (as in the case of a call to a fire) and a drive past.

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There will then be selections by the London Fire Brigade Band. Statistics of the London Fire Brigade are: Authorized fire staff. 1,928. Administrative, technical, clerical, and workshops staff—157. Fire stations—62; river stations—3; motor pumps—87; motor escape vans—76; turntable ladders—9; motor lorries—6; motor cars—16; motor canteen van—1; river floats—4; street fire alarms—1,668; fire hydrants—30,000; hose —62 miles; fires during the year 1923 were 4,824, and the number of calls were 7,227.

Some Facts About the Cairo, Egypt, Firemen

Another interesting report document brought back by Mr. Cobb was a pamphlet containing the report of the Cairo. Egypt, fire brigade for the year 1923.

The following extracts are taken from this report:

“The number of calls to fires or supposed fires during the year was 666, being an increase of 105 over the previous year which was a record. Of these calls 17 were outside the city area. There were 102 rescue call received, also a record, making a total of 768 calls from all causes.

“There were 20 false alarms with good intent and only two cases of malicious calls in which the offenders were caught and fined. There were 11 cases of incendiarism, 5 filed for insufficiency of proofs, one case acquitted after trial, and 5 still pending. Although a record number of calls was received the loss and damage to property was again small.

“The serious losses during the year were at a picture dealers’ in the Abdin district; the Winter Palace Hotel at Helwan; the Bon Marche in the Abdin district; the Masara Cement Works in Helwan; a cigarette factory in the Shubra district; a shop and a dwelling in the Abdin district.

“102 rescue calls were received during the year for the usual causes, viz.: houses collapsing, persons falling down wells or drains, buried in sand pits, etc.; 155 persons were rescued and 32 killed.

“A new fire station and motor turbine pump should be provided for Heliopolis. The town is extending very rapidly and there is nothing nearer than the motor at Zeitun Fire Station which has also to protect Matariya.”

Rescue Work the Cairo Men Are Called Upon to Do

Among the details of calls made by the “rescue appliance” appear the following entries:

“Jan. 2—Shubra, house collapsed, service not required.

“Jan. 3—Sayeda Zeinab, shop collapsed, the corpse of one man recovered.

“Jan. 7—Musky, one woman down a well, taken out alive.

“Jan. 17—Ezbekiya, house collapsed, six men rescued alive.

“Feb. 13—Khalifa, one cart and two horses down a deep hole, cart and horses taken out in good condition.

“March 4—Darb el Ahmar, house collapsed, 35 persons taken out alive.

“May 5—Gamaliya, one mule down a drainage trench, taken out alive.

“July 1—Musky, buffalo mad, caught and tied up.

“Sept 17—Ezbekiya, house collapsed, one man and two women taken out alive and the bodies of three persons recovered.

“Sept. 17—Sayeda Zeinab, staircase collapsed, 11 persons taken down by ladder.

Some Thrilling Experiences of Travel

While crossing the Sea of Gallilee on the way to Capernium Mr. and Mrs. Cobb bad an exciting experience as the top heavy old boat in which they were passengers took fire when there was a back explosion from the motor. Fortunately the boat was making a landing alongside of a rocky beach at the time and in the wild scramble ashore nobody was seriously hurt. The gasoline supply pipe to the engine broke and a lively oil blaze had started. But the engineer plugged up the pipe and then pulled off his baggy trousers which he soaked in salt water and used as a flail to beat out the fire. The crew aided by dashing buckets of water on the blazing woodwork and the flames were soon extinguished. But if the fire had occurred far out from land it is doubtful if the boat or its passengers could have been saved.

The other thrill the Cobbs experienced was in Syria when the automobile in which they were riding skidded while rounding a sharp curve on a road skirting the mountain side. Two wheels hung over the edge of the precipice for an instant as the car turned completely around and came to a halt after bumping against the side of the cliff.

Mr. Cobb brought back with him some interesting photographs and souvenirs as well as fire reports and statistics of alarms, losses, etc. in the various countries that he visited, several of which are reproduced in this article.

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