Motor Fire Apparatus: Its Durability, Efficiency and Economy

Motor Fire Apparatus: Its Durability, Efficiency and Economy

“The world does not evolve or revolve backwards,” said Helen Kellar, the blind and deaf genius. We who have eyes to see and cars to hear are forced to appreciate the wisdom of this observation. For, at the present time, in this “Twentieth Century” we stand in the midst of a very maelstrom of action and progress. Our every word, our every thought and action should mean a step forward. The world, which for ages has been the slave of ignorance and superstition, is at last being freed by the dissemination of knowledge. The nations have been awakened from their sleep, and the sun rays of truth are piercing the innermost nooks and corners of our world. In the old days, when three or four stories were considered the limit, as far as height was concerned, when the houses were built farther apart, when congestion was not so acute, fire fighting was a far different problem from that of to-day. Progress brought about these new conditions, and it devolved on the same forces to bring the fire department up to the standard by which it would be able to meet the added difficulties. Just as the problem of streets, sanitation and water were met, so did the inventive genius of the times find a solution for the fire fighter, which is evidenced by the aerial ladder, by the water tower, by the powerful high pressure streams and various other devices with which we are all entirely familiar. The desperate rivalry existing between our cities and their mad race to excel their neighbor in population has prompted the extension of the corporate limits from time to time so as to include vast tracks of sparsely settled territory. This, together with the automobile and the trolley car, have introduced a new condition and developed new difficulties for those who w’ere charged with the duty of furnishing fire protection.

Facility of Operation

To provide means of transporting men and appliances over larger areas fast enough to do successful fire fighting, to provide efficient fire prevention for vast stretches of sparsely settled territory, was a problem that again called into service the inventive genius who, after years of earnest effort, hardship and disappointment, and the expenditure of huge sums of money by the manufacturer, has at last succeeded in giving up the modern, efficient and reliable self-propelled fire apparatus of to-day. The motorizing of a fire department, however, like all radical changes from an established custom, is fraught with many difficulties, and means far more than merely consigning the faithful fire horse to green pastures and substituting the tireless machine to perform his duty. One of the first, and perhaps the greatest problems with which you are confronted is the proper training of men to operate the machines successfully. This is especially true of cities that are too small or, for other reasons, are unable to establish and maintain regular training schools. To the average citizen, who sees our streets thronged w’ith automobiles driven by women and children and irresponsible men, the driving of a piece of motor fire apparatus to a fire is an act of small consequence and requires little ability or training. Such, however, is not the case, as is evidenced by the many accidents, fatal and otherwise, that have occurred throughout our country‘since the introduction of the motor machine. In the first place, your motor fire apparatus driver is a fireman, animated by all the enthusiasm that permeates the profession. This prompts the desire to reach the scene of fire at the earliest possible moment, that he and his company may give the best account of themselves in the fight which is to be made. This enthusiasm. which, of course, must not be destroyed, has a tendency to recklessness, and the reckless driving of a heavy piece of motor fire apparatus through crowded streets is dangerous to the public and ruinous to the machine, and sooner or later results disastrously.

After you have succeeded in training a member of your department to be a careful and successful driver of your motor machine you have taught him a new trade, and his services are immediately in demand by owners of commercial vehicles, who are in position to pay better salaries or to offer shorter hours, with the result that your best men are often lost to your department when their services are most valuable. The useless racing of the engine while the car is standing; the engaging of the clutch with the engine racing in starting the car, causing extreme and unnecessary strain on every part of the apparatus, even to twisting the framework; the engaging of the transmission gears before the clutch has ceased to revolve, and the engaging of the reverse gear while the car is in forward motion; the too rapid driving of the machine to the immediate scene of the tire, or to quarters on returning, necessitating the too rigid application of brakes, subjecting the car to useless strain and costly repairs to wheels and tires; the reckless driving of the machine around street corners, causing unnecessary strain on all the parts, inducing skidding and resulting in many unnecessary accidents; fast driving oyer cobblestones, grade crossings and rough streets, which tend to crystallize axles, steering knuckles, etc., are a few of the things that your inexperienced driver is apt to do. In the motorizing of your fire department many other problems are to be solved, but the durability, efficiency and economy of operation of your machine depend almost entirely on the care, judgment and skill of the driver in the handling of the car.

* Read by A. Y. Bennett. Chief of the Fire Department. Birmingham, Ala., at the Convention of the International Association of Fire Engineers, in New York, Sept. 3, 1913.

Durability and Efficiency

The durability of the motor machine, if properly handled, should be almost indefinite, since its radius of action is comparatively small, and its mileage per year in many instances less than 100 miles, and in very few cases exceeding 500 miles. In the majority of alarms answered the entire distance to and from the fire is over paved or well-kept streets, which reduces the wear and tear of the machine to a minimum.

The motor’s chief claims to efficiency is its speed and ability to continue indefinitely without tiring. By its speed we are enabled to extend its radius of action over a territory two or three times as great as that covered by the horse-i’rawn machine and still obtain efficient fire service. We have on several occasions covered a distance of three or four miles with our motor machines and extinguished fires, with small damage, originating in ordinary frame residences. Of course, this does not mean that the number of companies or the number of men employed before the installation of the motor should be reduced, for in the handling of large fires in your congested district you will unquestionably require the services of as many men and as many pieces of apparatus as formerly. Nor does the motorizing of your department mean that you will only be required to establish engine houses in a radius of three or four miles of each other in your densely populated residence section. But it should mean more efficient service in all sections of your city, and that engine houses will not be required in the immediate vicinity in order to furnish protection to your sparsely settled territory. The motor machine perhaps in no way more clearly demonstrates its efficiency than in the prompt manner in which second alarm companies reach the scene of the fire. This is especially true in the residential sections of the smaller cities, where second alarm companies have a great distance to traverse. Their prompt arrival on the scene is always a source of gratification to the officer in charge.

Reliability and Economy

The reliability of motor apparatus has been a question of grave concern among fire department officials and others interested in fire protection. Such questions as. Will the motor negotiate steep hills, or muddy streets, or deep sand, soft and hard snow? have been the subject of much correspondence between officials whose cities had already bought and those who were contemplating buying the modern equipment. By actual tests the motor has proven to be as free from breakdowns and delays, if properly handled, as the horse-drawn machine, and should be considered equally as reliable and trustworthy under all circumstances. In negotiating hills your motor will climb grades with comparative ease that it is impossible to ascend with the horse-drawn machine. In muddy streets, through sand or snow, if your motor machine can get traction it will plow through bad stretches that one pair of horses hauling your heavy fire apparatus would be sure to fail. The cost of operating motor fire apparatus is rather difficult to determine accurately as yet because of the uncertainty of depreciation and necessary repairs due to actual wear and tear. The expense of operation, however, is largely controlled by the ability and care of the driver in the handling of your machine, who will raise the cost to annormal proportions or lower it decidedly below that of the horsedrawn machine doing the same work, proportionately, as lie exercises skill and judgment in his driving. Tire equipment will necessarily be one of the factors in the cost of operation. The pneumatic tire possesses many advantages, such as resiliency and traction, is less liable to skid and protects the machine against rough driving, but the ever present danger oi a puncture or blowout, often putting the machine out of commission to change or repair tires, and the expense of frequent replacements renders the pneumatic far from being the ideal tire. The solid tire, too, has its advantages and disadvantages. The danger of punctures and blowouts is entirely eliminated, and this equipment is durable and thoroughly reliable. With dual tires on the rear wheels sufficient traction is obtained to carry the machine where you might reasonably expect to go, but the vibration to which your machine is subjected while being rapidly driven, especially over rough streets, necessitates many repairs and sooner or later sends the car to the shop for a general overhauling. The cushion tire combines many of the good qualities of both the pneumatic and the solid, but does not possess the durability of the latter and is correspondingly more expensive. The actual cost of operating motor apparatus, exclusive of wear and tear and depreciation, is very small as compared with the horse-drawn machine. We have cars in service that the cost of operation has averaged less than $3 per month since their installation, which was nearly three years ago. We also have machines in service which during the last 18 months have not required one penny’s worth of repairs. George W. Booth, of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, submitted a report to the National Fire Protection Association this year in which he embodied a table of comparative cost between the horse-drawn and motor-driven machines, which is so nearly correct that 1 am taking the liberty of reproducing it, as follows:

Hose Wagon-Horse Drawn

Steam Fire Engine

Two Horses

Two-wheel Tractor

Automobile Hose Wagon

Automobile Combination Pumping Engine and Hose Wagon “Z”

Steam Fire Engine with Tractor


It will be noted that Mr. Booth uses as a basis a yearly total! of 500 miles to be covered by each iype of maihinc. In the average city this is at least twice the mileage that would be made, taking the entire number of machines in service as a whole. And the cost of operation will be correspondingly reduced with the motor-driven, hut would not be with the horse-drawn machine, as the cost of maintenance is about the same for the horse, whether he answers an alarm or stands in ocarters. The march of progress cannot he halted. Self-propelled fire apparatus, as the product of this progress, is rapidly making mighty inroads on the old methods of the firefighting service. The growing favor of the motor car is in no way more concretely illustrated than in the recital of the fact that my home city, Birmingham, Ala., less than three years ago, with its 24 pieces of motor-driven fire apparatus, ranked first as far as equipment of this kind in relation to population was concerned. But today what a change! With the same number of pieces in service, she has dropped down to thrity-sixteen in the list. This wonderful increase in the use of the new equipment is not due to a mere desire to get in line, to be more modern than our neighbor cities, hut to far more substantial reasons. It has been brought about because the motor is more efficient, because it is faster, because it is more economical, because it is more sanitary, because immediately after our longest, hardest runs it is ready to respond to the next call, because it will continue indefinitely without tiring. These facts are stronger than all the eulogistic tributes that might be paid the new type vehicle. They are based on every day’s use and experience. They stand out indisputable, incontrovertible, invincible, and lead to one inevitable conclusion—motor-driven fire apparatus is not a luxury, hut a vital necessity.

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