Largest Motor Department in America
With twenty-three pieces of motor tire equipment, Birmingham, Ala., enjoys the signal honor of having the largest motorized fire department in the country. This within itself is enough to proclaim Birmingham’s progressive spirit and stamp the Magic City as a leader of modem ideas and civic developments. A movement started by Chief of the Fire Department A. V. Bennett several years ago, which met with hearty co-operation by the city commissioners, to motorize the fire department of Birmingham, culminated in the acquiring of twenty-three pieces of motor equipment by the city of Birmingham. That the entire department of Birmingham will be motorized within the next five years is the belief of even the most conservative. The motor steam engine in use by the Birmingham department is equipped with a 110-horse-power motor, which propels the steam fire engine, giving it a capacity of 800 gallons the minute, the water pressure the square inch being 117 pounds. With every other modern device known added to this machine, and weighing 14,305 pounds, it has a speed of fifty miles an hour. In addition to this well equipped machine, the department boasts of eighteen motor-driven combination chemical and hose wagons, two triple combination motor-driven machines, consisting of a fire engine, hose wagon and chemical engine, each of which is one piece of apparatus, and two automobiles, one used by Chief Bennett and the other by Assistant Chief Walton. The eighteen motor combination chemical hose wagons are distributed in various sections of the city. They arc so distributed as to warrant the covering of long distance runs in the event help should he needed by suburban stations. Then, too, a great many suburban stations have these machines, especially where houses arc scattered. The aggregate number of these combination chemical-hose wagons did away with 36 horses. The cost of feeding these 36 horses averaged $16 per month per horse, or $566 for the entire number per month. One of these motor chemical-hose wagons can be operated at a cost of $3.20 for the machine, which makes a total of $47.60 for the operation of the entire number. Thus it is readily seen that a saving of $5,180 has been acquired by the city from these pieces alone. The other machines have likewise been operated at a lower cost than horse-drawn machines. One of the triple combination motor machines put out of commission six horses and seven men. Instead of fifteen men operating three different pieces of apparatus, eight men now handle this triple combination machine. This combination does away with three separate and distinct pieces of equipment, namely: Fire engine, chemical engine and hose wagon. These triple combination machines have given thorough satisfaction to the Birmingham department and have proven conclusively that they can be operated at a cost less than horsedrawn apparatus. The two automobiles provided for the fire chiefs and the assistant fire chief are of vast benefit to the public, as well as enabling these officials to arrive on the scene of a fire as quickly as possible. The remaining number of pieces of equipment consists of horsedrawn apparatus. The department now has eigh steam fire engines, drawn by seventeen horses, two hook and ladder trucks, drawn by ten horses; a chemical engine and several other pieces of smaller equipment. Instead of sixty horses as was the case before the addition of motor apparatus. the department now has only twenty horses. There are nineteen stations in the fifty square miles of Birmingham. These stations are in charge of 107 firemen, all of whom are experienced and well trained. Some of the men in the local department have been in service in the local department for twenty years. The captains, lieutenants and head linesmen are all picked by the chief and all are especially fitted for their respective duties. There are 735 fire plugs in Greater Birmingham. These plugs are so arranged as to give an adequater water supply to every section of the city when the fire department is called. The plugs are of the best type manufactured and the fire hose may he easily adjusted. To render prompt alarms of fires there are 101 alarm boxes in the district. These, too, are placed in various sections of the city. With this large number of alarm boxes, together with the telephone, the firemen receive their calls. The firemen have 50,000 feet of hose, or about 9 1/2 miles, with which to fight fire. When Chief Bennett became chief of the fire department in 1906, there were only 3,000 feet of hose, or a little less than a mile. The nineteen stations of Birmingham—the property and equipment—are valued approximately at $314,253.81, the property being valued at $91,000,000 and the equipment at $231,674.75. This makes one of the most valuable fire departments in the world, according to the size and population of Birmingham.
In Chief A. V. Bennett, Birmingham has one of the most versatile fire chiefs in the States. He entered the local department a raw recruit Sept. 23, 1800, being assigned to what was then Hose Company No. 5, which was afterward closed and reopened as Company No. fi. The department at that time consisted of only three companies, known as North Side, South Side and West End. The apparatus in use at that time consisted of three hose reels, two small fire engines and an old style ladder truck. The latter, of which required the combined efforts of a majority of the firemen of the department to erect. The other two departments were as meagerly equipped as the South Side station. Chief Bennett relates an experience when his company was responding to a cal! alarm at night at South Fourteenth street, and the road was missed, there being no lighted streets and good roads at that time. The result was the capsizing of the hose reel into a ditch. It took all of the firemen to extricate the piece of apparatus. “Things are different now,” says Chief Bennett. Here is what the chief said when he compared the old system to the new:
“With no good roads, the streets poorly lighted, the most of which had no lights, three small fire stations, which were poorly equipped, I entered the fire department of Birmingham. From the lime of mv first day’s duty I have longed for a motorized fire department. Automobiles were not in practical use at the time of my entering the department, but as the machine progressed in workmanship and as they became more and more in use. 1 realized that some day even progressive city in the United States would be using motor fire machines. When the Birmingham department put into practical use its first motor lire machine, it was with a certain amount of pride that I looked on the acquisition of this machine. The motor fire machine has proven its worth to Birmingham, and I hope to see the entire system motorized in the near future.”
The chief is an affable man. Powerful in stuture, a Roman nose that becomes a man of his grace, a thick head of iron grey hair, with a close cropped mustache—is Chief Bennett. He is a well read man, educated, refined. He is pleasing and bears every essential of a true man. Assistant Chief W. P. Walton is an able one. He became a member of the fire department in 1889, and since that time has been with it continuously. In 1892 he was made captain of the department, and in 1906 he was appointed to assistant chief of the fire department. Assistant Chief Walton is a practical fireman, having fitted himself by experience to grapple with the many complex problem* presented in the performance of his duty.