Miami Fire Department Has Long Record of Accomplishments

Miami Fire Department Has Long Record of Accomplishments


Miami’s Chief, N. L. Wheeler preaches use of respiratory protective equipment, and practices it, as shown in this candid shot. Note pouch in bunker coat holding mask facepiece

—Miami Fire Department photo

Visitors at the International Association of Fire Chiefs’ 83rd Annual Conference will have opportunity to study numerous innovations that have made fire protection history

ON JULY 28, 1896, A CITY was born on the shores of Bisoayne Bay and the Miami River. The gossip then was of railroads, of fishing and farming, and the climate. Someone thought that the sunshine was a saleable factor and started publicizing the land where the sun and sea combined to make living pleasant, and the city mushroomed.

Today, sixty years later, railroads vie for attention with such things as airlines, atomic power, rockets, flying saucers, and trips to the moon.

What city is this, you may say? Why, Miami, Florida, of course, scene of the coming 83rd Conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

The Miami Fire Department started with the city and has continued to expand with its tremendous growth. Beginning with one paid man and a handful of volunteers, the fire department now numbers 617 paid men and no volunteers.

A young fire department in a young city has this advantage: It can only look forward. The history of the Miami Fire Department like the history of the city it serves, is one of forward progress.

Progress begins early

Nearly 30 years ago the Miami Fire Department, after weeks of experiments, placed in service a loud speaker system to speed the dispatching of fire apparatus. That story was featured in FIRE ENGINEERING of November 14, 1928.

In the late 30’s, the department again made the headlines when it equipped each piece of apparatus with radio receivers so the alarm dispatchers could contact the apparatus when it was away from quarters. Profiting by what was learned from this move, two-way radio soon followed, thus making direct communication possible between the alarm dispatcher and the apparatus officer. We believe Miami was the first city to use radio on all its fire apparatus.

The development of fog fire fighting during World War II for shipboard fires, proved an effective means of fire control and some farsighted chiefs started experimenting with it in the belief that fog application could be as successful on structural fires as it was on ship fires. Miami was one of the first cities where water fog was tested experimentally. A group of firemen was sent to the U. S. Coast Guard fire fighting school at historic Fort McHenry to study all phases of this progressive innovation. These men became the nucleus of fog fire fighters in the department; through them the entire fire force was trained in all elements of this progressive improvement.

Although the tourist, enraptured by its climate, may view Miami as merely a winter resort, the professional fireman sees the vast city in an entirely different light, even though he readily admits Miami’s many attractions for the vacationer. As a major manufacturing center for example, Miami can produce “mean” industrial working fires—and it does. Each of these, as the fire records testify, is capable of testing a fire department’s personnel, special skills, teamwork and mechanical facilities.

The introduction of water fog into the department was merely keeping pace with the increasing number and severity of fire hazards coincidental with the growth of the metropolis.

It became apparent almost from the start that effective use of water fog required fire fighters to get in close to the seat of the fire and this in turn, called for special respiratory protective equipment to enable them to penetrate smoke and toxic fumes.

Innovations in mask usage

Each Miami fire fighter was equipped with a filter type gas mask. This in itself was a most progressive step at that time, but the real innovation came with the adoption of a special carrying pocket, which became a part of each man’s bunker coat, and in which the mask assembly is carried ready for instant service. After a few refinements, a standard mask-carrying coat was developed which is now known as the “Miami Bunker Coat” by clothing manufacturers.

It was not enough to outfit firemen with this mask assembly. The department saw to it that men were properly trained in the use of their respiratory equipment. Prior to the time’ when all men were equipped with gas masks, each new man received a brief familiarization of gas masks during his rookie training. With the whole department going into a new standard operating procedure, training had to be broadened to teach the oldtimers as well as the new men how to properly use gas masks, and to sell them on the value of accepting masks as a regular part of their fire protective clothing.

It was necessary to determine by experiment how best to approach a fire with multiple lines (thermal currents caused by eorradiating streams burned the men), how to ventilate for best resuits, whether men could penetrate deeper into a fire area with masks on and how long they could operate under these conditions.

One of Miami's chemical wagons. The crew is operating two of the three preconnected lines carried on the apparatus. Each nozzle is discharging about 100 gpm at 30-degree fog pattern. Note that all men on the lines wear the fitter-type mask in their special bunker coats

—Miami Fire Department photo

It should he mentioned that the department maintains a supply of demand-type breathing apparatus and other special respiratory equipment, in the use of which the men are also thoroughly trained. And while on the subject, another story could be written around the department’s mask maintenance program, which calls for periodic inspection of all masks by officers and special gas mask experts.

The general feeling was that men properly protected, and provided with light hose lines would, with proper training, combat most fires with a minimum amount of water and still control the fire. Speed was essential, so was water fog and wetting agents, and so was respiratory protection.

Mobility of fire fighting crews has always been a problem in fire fighting. A crew on a 2 1/2-inch or 3-inch line is handicapped in movement over the firearea; lines are unwieldy and stiff; nozzles heavy, and time is consumed in layout, hookup, etc. So, in what proved another progressive step, Miami experimented with an apparatus specially designed for fog fire fighting and evolved a tank type truck carrying 500 gallons of water and a 500 gpm pump. To speed attack, three pre-connected 1 1/2-inch lines were carried, each 200 feet long fitted with fog nozzles.

A proportioner was next developed by a member of the department whereby a chemical wetting agent could be added to the fire streams for better penetration into burning materials. These chemical trucks as they are known (Miami has five at present) are used as light, fast-attack units. They are backed up by engine companies in residential and light industrial sections of the city, and have proved their worth many times over. They have received much publicity in the fire service journals and the press.

Indirect fog application tests

In developing new techniques it is necessary to have a place to test ideas under controlled conditions. The changeover to fog made it imperative that the fire department have a building where fire crews could experiment with the theories of water fog and where training could be accomplished. Therefore a fire test laboratory was built on the fire department drill grounds. This was a twostory block building, built with special expanded aggregate. Seventeen fixed-position thermocouples were installed throughout the building so accurate temperature recordings could be made of heat rise and fall during the fire tests.

The exploratory committee of the National Fire Protection Association was set up in May, 1951, to make full-scale tests of the theories of fog application. This group felt that Miami’s smoke house was the most suitable structure in which to conduct the tests they wanted to run.

During October and November of that year the committee used the Miami facilities for their purposes, the tests being planned primarily to determine the degree of effectiveness of the indirect application of water fog, rather than to develop specific scientific techniques.

For the fire tests, the ground floor was divided into eight frame rooms approximately 10 feet square, four rooms on each side, with a 10-foot aisleway in the center. A fuel load of about 10 pounds per square foot was placed throughout the building. A series of four test fires were conducted, but Tests 3 and 4, which involved the entire building, were the most complete and extensive.

Fog nozzles, set at approximately 30degree pattern, with 100 pounds nozzle pressure, were used for extinguishment. Other nozzles of various capacities were also used during tests. Temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees F. were developed before water was applied, all temperatures being recorded on a potentiometer in an instrument building about 25 feet south of the fire building. But progress did not end here.

Additional test fires were built and fought in a condemned frame dwelling. Fog nozzles on three 1 1/2-inch jump lines from one of the chemical attack units were used, with the addition of a wetting agent. Temperatures and observations were not recorded on these tests. These experiments, and others conducted since, have given further impetus to the scientific application of water fog.

The rescue crews were always on hand in case of accidents and to take blood samples of the men during different stages of exposure to the heat and fatigue, to see what the effects on body oxygen were on the men working with and without masks.

Miami Fire Department Instructor Captain M. E. Harrison explains functions to student Fireman D. C. Clark, Jr. In addition to classroom training, men get field workouts. All gas mask equipment is tested and serviced by members of the Miami Rescue Squad

—Miami Fire Department photo

Training center being built

A common objective in all progressive fire departments is the improvement of established techniques, and the application of new approaches and methods to the tasks at hand. The training staff of the Miami Fire Department, directed by Chief Fire Officer Milton Q. Bullock, is constantly seeking new and better ways to increase the effectiveness of the department in all fire fighting procedures.

From the standpoint of essential training, a need has been felt for an area where operational training could be developed; where, as the next logical step after basic training, chief officers could work out pre-fire problems in command and company coordination, where the individual performance was not as much a prime factor as the company operation as a unit.

In cooperation with Dade County Civil Defense and Federal Civil Defense Administration, a Main Control Center and Training Facilities are under construction on a 10-acre plot provided by Dade County, located about 10 miles from the center of downtown Miami.

The City of Miami agreed to build a Rescue Training Center, and as a result the bid of the Brinkley Construction Company for $57,907.00 was accepted on July 18, 1956, with 120 days allowed for completion.

The rescue training facility will include a five-story fire building and training tower so constructed that fires can be built and fought in it or that smoke can be generated and funneled to upper stories. The structure will be equipped with thermocouples and have a temperature recording room, with observation ports, hatches for raising or lowering “victims” or equipment, and a standpipe system.

Adjacent to the training tower will be a collapsed or bombed-type structure for rescue training. An area will also be provided for instruction in fighting aircraft crash fires, electrical and gas leak fires, mobile fires, etc. An artificial lake, at one corner of the grounds, will provide facilities for pumper drafting operations.

It is hoped that with these facilities we can develop a system of combined company operations, coordinated with other services, to solve rescue and fire fighting problems on an operational level. Additions may be needed in the future to round out the complete utilization of the area. However, this enterprise constitutes an essential step necessary to fill the gap between paper planning in firemanship and actual disaster operations.

Masks are “musts” in the Miami Fire Department. Here Fireman R. H. Doll models battle dress and over-shoulder use of 1 1/2-inch hose fitted with 30-degree fog nozzle. Note mask filter on back of bunker coat and tube running to facepiece. When not in use, latter is carried in pouch shown under left arm

—Miami Fire Department photo

A public relations builder

Miami, as we all know, is a tourist Mecca—a city that was brought to life by publicity, and publicity continues to play an important part in attracting visitors. including firemen, to the city. Some of these visiting firemen become so enamoured with the city that they become permanent residents.

The fire department has played an active part in the promotion of Miami in the eyes of the public. Paul W. Kearney wrote an article about the department’s fog fire fighting techniques and nse of gas masks, for the Reader’s Digest; Miami’s new telephone alarm system likewise has had wide publicity in Popular Mechanics and other magazines. Miami fire prevention promotion uses the facilities of the City Publicity Department to good advantage. The “JC’s” have a “Miss Fire Prevention.” In one stunt, ’Miss Universe’’ was “rescued” from atop Burdine’s Department Store by a ladder company. Aerial ladders are also employed by publicity cameramen to help them get strategic angle shots of the various events taking place in Miami.

The experiments of the Exploratory Committee on the Application of Water Fog; the chemical truck achievements in furthering the strategy of fire attack, using water fog with a wetting agent; the protection of fire fighters with gas masks; the new fire alarm system, all have received national, even international recognition, and have brought fire protection engineers and firemen in all grades to Miami to find out more about these and other progressive developments.

Control Center building and training grounds, being constructed by Dade County Civil Defense Council in cooperation with Miami Fire Department

—Courtesy Miami Fire Department

Of course, new ideas and improvements are finding their way into the fire departments of many other cities, and this progress should be brought to the attention of the nation’s fire service as a whole, so that the fire forces may continue to grow and improve their worth to their individual communities.

By setting up progressive programs and enlisting the talents of members of the department, and those kindred folk who have the department’s interests at heart, a fire department can help to promote its municipality and help make it a place where people want to come to visit and possibly to live, at the same time further advancing the fire department itself.

Miami and its fire department eagerly anticipate the forthcoming Conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

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