Losses, Hazards and Fire Department Conditions in Various Cities
Extracts from Reports of Committee on Fire Prevention and Engineering Standard, National Board of Fire Underwriters
Population estimated to be 90,800; the 1920 United State Census showed 87,091, an increase of 73 per cent in the last decade. The rapid growth of the city has been due to the developments of its industries, which include foundries, machine shops, brick, tile and iron works, the manufacture of watches, safes, locks, roller bearings, metal ceilings, iron novelties, structural steel work, automobiles and rubber products. Three railroads and three interurban lines afford good transportation facilities.
In the principal mercantile district weak construction and lack of window protection make serious individual or group fires probable. While the wide streets and the open space at the intersection of the two principal streets form valuable fire breaks, fires could readily cross the narrow streets and involve considerable portions of the district especially as the fire-fighting facilities are deficient; this, however, will be improved with the changes in the water supply under way and contemplated. In the manufacturing districts, on account of the generally inadequate water supply severe local or group fires are probable. Residential districts present only a normally mild hazard of sweeping fires as very few buildings have combustible roof coverings.
The fire department is a fairly efficient and well organized force, under the supervision of a single director and is commanded by an experienced chief. The personnel is good and discipline fairly well enforced. Appointments and promotions are nominally made under civil service rules. The expenditures for permanent improvements have done much to increase the mechanical strength, but the financial support for maintenance is somewhat less than for cities of similar size. Provision is made for pensions, but no age limit is prescribed for compulsory retirement. Companies practice regularly, but there is no drill tower. The department would be benefited by properly conducted drills, individual instruction and practice in a drill school, including practice in heavy duty operation of engines.
Companies are well located with respect to the principal mercantile district, but distribution in some of the outlying districts is only fair; and companies are undermanned, with no provision for maintaining their strength with trained men during sick or vacation periods. The available fire force is mainly sufficient for large fires, but the arrangement for calling the offshift men is inadequate; definite arrangements for the response of off-shift men and provisions for some of them to sleep at stations would be of great assistance. Provision is made for sufficient response in all districts; but there is no running card and companies are moved in to cover headquarters only. Sufficient chemical equipment is provided; but ladder protection is inadequate and a reserve ladder should be provided for the contingency of a regular ladder being out of service for repairs. Minor equipment on trucks is good. The total engine capacity is inadequate; and the engines were found in poor condition and had to be overhauled before testing. Facilities for repair work are insufficient.
The amount of hose on hand is sufficient but most of it is unreliable for use with heavy pressure. New hose is purchased under specifications and is tested upon delivery but not regularly thereafter. Fire stations are generally well arranged, but arc in fair condition only.
Fire methods are generally modern, and such as prevent excessive water damage at fires, but little salvage work is done. Inspections of buildings for rubbish and other hazards accomplish much good. Records are fairly good, but poorly kept and somewhat incomplete; and annual reports are not printed. Improvements made since the previous report have considerably strengthened the department.
Fire Alarm System
The present system is under experienced management but the permanent force employed is inadequate. Maintenance is good but presents unreliable features in the installation of circuits on some poles with high potential lines, in the improper construction of leads down poles, and the failure to properly ground boxes. The location of headquarters in a building of nonfireproof construction containing the hazards of automobile apparatus, a large amount of woodwork and without window protection to serious exposures, jeopardize the system. Batteries are of good type and in good condition. The instruments at fire stations are in good condition. Speed of alarms is slow, due to the number of large gongs and the tower bell. Boxes are non-interfering; 64 per cent have the succession features; all are dingy and inconspicuous from lack of cleaning and painting, and bands on supporting poles and red lights indicating location. The distribution is fairly good except in the outlying districts. Circuits are only partly underground in the principal mercantile district and elsewhere mostly overhead. Separate gong circuits should be extended to all fire stations so that speed of transmitting alarms can be increased. Tests of boxes are unsatisfactory and with the exception of a map in convenient form no records are kept. Stations are connected direct to public telephone exchanges; telephone alarms are transmitted as box alarms, and nearest company is first notified by telephone. Many of the defective and unsatisfactory features of the fire alarm service noted in the 1912 report which still exist will be removed upon the installation of the proposed new system.