Japan’s Fire Brigade.
No country is so much exposed to fires as Japan. In one week recently 5000 houses were burned down in Tokio alone, and in the next week 15,000 houses were destroyed in that city, while Sir Rutherford Alcock states that Tokio loses as many houses as constitute the entire city every ten years. The houses, with the exception of the tiles on the roof, are constructed entirely of wood, and the windows are formed of fine and often beautiful lace work, covered with paper.
Some buildings in Japan are thatched, while the roofs of others are formed of little slate-like flakes of wood ; but these so readily take fire if sparks fall upon them that the Japanese prefer taking the risk of injury from falling tiles during the earthquake to being in even greater clanger from fires than they necessarily must always even now be. it is strange that in these days, when so many young natives have come to Europe to study the sciences, that their acquired knowledge of chemistry has not caused them to adopt some means of renderthe wood of which their houses are constructed, and even the paper of the windows, incombustible. They have, however, in the large towns most efficient fire brigades, and have even the newest and best fire engines of European or American make ; but these are of much less use than might be imagined, for the supply of water is limited, and the engine without water is a mere mockery. Over every house door is placed a sign indicating that there is one well on the premises, or sometimes we see two or more of these signs, indicating that two or more wells will be found in that building, and thus the firemen know the sources of their water supply, and from these wells alone can water be had.
The scarcity of water renders it necessary that all buildings surrounding any that may have taken fire be pulled down, so that the burning mass be isolated, for there is no hope of preventing the spreading of the conflagration by the water from the engines; and it is this necessity which causes the fireman’s drill in Japan to appear so strange and grotesque to the European. Each fireman is furnished with a sort of hook, intended for use in the pulling down the houses, but the question arises as to where the man is to stand while engaged in his work of destruction. A ladder is held upright by a number of men, who hold it firmly by these hooks ; and it is up a ladder thus held that the firemen go to pull down the houses which are to be destroyed in case of a fire. The chief exercises of the men consist in ascending the ladder and leaning out from it in a horizontal manner, using the hook while holding on by the feet, and in all sorts of acrobatic feats which seem calculated to aid them in their work. Sometimes a man ascends the ladder and stands in an inverted position on the top round. At other times he grasps one side of the ladder with his hands, and throws his body out horizontally, so that he may have free use of his feet—and it must be rememhered that the laps can do much more with their feet than we can with ours-bu the chief exercise consists in holding by the feet and using the hook with the hands.
The firemen are arranged in corps, each of which is headed 11, , . , . by the bearer ot a large lantern in the form of some curious distinctive device, from which cut papers, a religious emblem, depend, and we have seen a corps slowly and solemnly marching to a fire, headed with their insignia, just as though it were taking part in a funeral procession, instead of hurrying, as becomes those concerned in subduing that fearful element, fire.