Conditions in War Areas Show Value of Proper and Adequate Fire Alarm Signaling Systems

THE whole fire-fighting facilities of the country are built up and organized to respond in all emergencies through various established channels of one form or another or communication, all of which to put the fire-fighting forces in motion, revolve around a municipally-owned and operated signaling system.

Dependability of the signaling means should be more generally recognized as the one indispensable characteristic of any emergency signaling system upon which the security of life and property depends. Fire alarm, the most vitally important of the signaling services, is always accomplished under emergency conditions—sabotage and war merely intensify these conditions, but the threat of war, by impelling a consideration of the adequacy of the signaling systems as an element of the national defense of necessity, brings to light the weaknesses existing in such systems and cause their deficiencies, even for peace-time service, to stand out in sharp relief.

Municipalities are merely political subdivisions of the nation. But in municipalities are concentrated a great mass of the people and the factories with their industrial processes that are essential not only to the national defense in time of war, but to the national welfare at all times.

The local fire and police departments entrusted with the responsibility for the public safety within the corporate limits must necessarily depend upon the signaling system if they are to successfully combat fire and crime, and without adequate and dependable signaling systems their organizations and equipment are helpless and will fail to achieve their intended purpose in exactly the same degree that the signaling systems are inadequate and independable.

In this connection, a striking example of dependability appears in an article recently published in the magazine “Fire”, the official journal of the British Fire Service. This article states:

“The London County Council has cause to congratulate itself on its wisdom in replacing, as far as possible, the old open circuit, non-code, fire alarm system by the closed-circuit system, which is demonstrating its superiority as a means of communication even during air raids.

Closed Circuit Proves Effective

“In one London thoroughfare, when a large calibre high explosive bomb caused considerable destruction, a closed-circuit fire alarm box, close to the crater, was brought to the ground, with its pillar completely severed in the middle, as though it had been cut by the oxy-acetylene process.

“Despite all this, the mechanism in the head and the cable were uninjured, and code and telephone calls were accurately and speedily transmitted from the box. Of course, all who knew anything of the system expected this, but the general public did not.

“Probably the time will come when police authorities will follow the example of Southend and Portsmouth in installing closed-circuit police alarm boxes. These are eminently superior to the extremely costly police “telephone boxes in the London area which can be disabled by the malicious without the man at the switchboard being any the wiser.”

The London County Council certainly made no mistake when it caused to be installed during a time when the British nation was at peace, fire alarm boxes embracing the Gamewell factors of safety and of such inherent excellence of materials and workmanship as to withstand the effects of aerial bombardment and still remain in condition to dependably transmit signals.

Fire out of control in itself constitutes the most serious emergency that can happen in a congested business or residential area. The citizen who pulls the fire alarm box is naturally excited and the operating mechanism of the box must be so designed that he cannot mistake its purpose, its method of intended use, or fail to operate it correctly. Signaling systems are constantly exposed to the elements, to storms, earthquakes, crashing of automobiles into poles and pedestals, and to accidental contacts with high tension electric power circuits. Yet, under all of these conditions the systems must have sufficient dependability to correctly serve their purpose.

Dependability Demonstrated

The example of the dependability of modern fire alarm systems which occurred in London, while receiving greater publicity owing to the wartime conditions under which it happened, is by no means exceptional. Here is our own country following the earthquake of 1933 in Southern California which disrupted for days all other forms of communication, the dependability of the signaling systems was strikingly demonstrated. Following the worst flood in the history of Pittsburgh in May 1936, the Chief made the following statement:

“The fire alarm system, exclusive of the boxes under water, functioned one hundred per cent. Not an alarm of fire was lost during a period of five days while light, power and transportation were suspended. During this period our office transmitted 189 alarms for fire.”

A newspaper article published after the hurricane which swept New England in September 1938 stated that in Boston, fire alarm boxes kept ringing in as frenzied citizens rang for help as hundreds of electric light and povver wires fell before the crumpling of entire lines of trees, and that the Boston fire department responded to more than 350 alarms during the storm.

Early Weaknesses

These few instances have been cited to prove the high degree of dependability that is built into modern fire alarm telegraph equipment. But there are factors of independability existing in the signaling systems and methods employed in most of the smaller communities and many large communities as well. In practically all of the older signaling systems throughout the country the ability of the boxes to send their signals over broken or otherwise disordered circuits is absent. When a circuit is broken all of the boxes on that circuit are out of service; when a cable containing the wires for a number of circuits is broken a great number of boxes are incapacitated and a large municipal area is destitute of fire alarm protection; if the cable also contains the alarm circuits over which alarms are sent from the central alarm station to the fire stations, the fire-fighting forces are left without any means of receiving alarms, except possible by telephone in the event that the telephone wires are in different cables and which may have escaped disruption.

Reserve power and reserve equipment are items of vital importance in maintaining the dependability of signaling systems under emergency conditions. Storage batteries of adequate capacity have long been recognized as the standard means of supplying electrical current for the operation of these systems but there must also be provided dependable means for charging the batteries. It is generally supposed that the public service supply of electric power is now so continuous and free from interruption that it is entirely dependable, but this is true under ordinary conditions only. The many experiences during the floods, storms and earthquakes of recent years have shown that the public utility power supply has been frequently interrupted for periods sufficiently long to incapacitate the signaling systems dependent thereon and to conclusively indicate that every municipal signaling system should have a standby independent power supply source such as may be provided by a gasoline enginedriven generator of sufficient capacity to supply battery charging current and temporary lighting for the central alarm station.

In the communities dependent upon volunteer firemen, and with a public alarm system for calling the firemen, the necessity for a reserve power supply extends to the public alarm means in addition to the provision of adequate battery charging facilities. When fires occur, such communities are entirely dependent upon the public alarm for mobilizing their fire-fighting forces, and instances of electric power cessation caused by storms, high wind, and sleet are not infrequent. The sleet storm in 19.35 that crippled seventy-five per cent of the Georgia power lines, the hurricane of 1938 which left scores of New England communities in darkness for days, the sleet storm of March 1940 which, within its path in Connecticut and adjoining states inflicted even more damage than the hurricane, and the hurricane of August 11, 1940, which swept through the Southeastern Coastal States, are only a few recent outstanding occasions when many communities were deprived of electric power for publicly announcing alarms of fire to their volunteer fire departments.

Alarm Equipment Must Be SelfContained

The characteristics of any means for publicly announcing alarms of fire, if dependable service is to be expected, must necessarily include in addition to sufficient sound penetration and coding ability, adequate reserve power capacity to tide over periods of electric power interruption in fact, the ideal public alarm under emergency conditions is one that is entirely independent of any remote source of power supply.

Reserve supplies of equipment, parts and materials likely to be damaged or destroyed by accident or sabotage arc essential to maintain the continuity of protection afforded by the signaling systems. The determination of the quantities to be held in reserve for emergencies can only be arrived at by a careful study of the conditions existing in each community but it is obvious that boxes, recording instruments, batteries, rectifiers, vital parts that can be destroyed or removed, quantities of wire, and cables of the kinds and capacities used in each system, should be included in the list.

Unless the signaling system provides adequate signaling facilities at all points within the city limits it is not sufficient. Irrespective of how dependable each element of the system performs its functions. the system will fail to achieve itintended purpose. Strange as it may appear in this era of efficiency, and although many cities are well equipped, the statement may be made that American municipalities, on an average, are at least seventy-five per cent deficient in their provision for emergency signaling.

The Chamber of Commerce of the United States recently pointed out that practically no city in the country has enough fire alarm boxes and this statement is fully substantiated by the detailed engineering reports of the National Board of Fire Underwriters compiled during the periodic inspections of municipal fire defenses made by this organization. A fire loss in physical values alone during the twenty-one years, 1919-1939, of eight and one-half billions of dollars, the destruction of intangible but nevertheless real values amounting to twice that figure, the loss of some 200,000 human lives with injuries sustained by several additional hundreds of thousands of people, is the peace-time record of American cities.

Modern military preparedness is entirely dependent upon industrial efficiency and the continuity of the processes of production. Any serious impairment thereof would be a national calamity. Prior to actual involvement in war, fire and sabotage by fire probably present the greatest menace to industry. Authorities are generally agreed that an intensification of the usual methods of protection, which include fire and nolice supervision, fire and police signaling systems for ensuring adequate supervision and for the swift dissemination of intelligence in emergencies, and fire fighting equipment, will provide the most effective remedy. The success of any plan adopted will necessarily be determined by the adequacy of the signaling systems and the associated means of communication.

The generally accepted yardstick for measuring the peace-time adequacy of the signaling and supervisory systems is contained in the regulations of the National Board of Fire Underwriters as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association for the installation, maintenance, and use of Municipal Signaling Systems. These regulations are employed by the Underwriters for grading municipalities for insurance ratemaking purposes.

With respect to the essential characteristics of public alarm equipment, the fact should not be overlooked that although war has not yet reached our shores, our Federal authorities indicate that it is by no means a remote possibility. In such case, our larger cities may also have to contemplate reversion to the public alarm, not only for fire signals, but for air raid alarms, and for the swift dissemination by sound of information and instructions should other means of communication be disrupted.

While it is to be hoped that our country will be spared the horrors of war, the recent fate of many countries that were unprepared should be sufficient warning even to a country several thousands of miles removed from the existing centers of conflict. And the emergency of war should not be necessary to inspire the municipalities of America to correct a deficiency which is responsible, year after year, for the waste of property valued at a billion dollars or more, and the sacrifice of thousands of human lives.

Defense Councils Formed

Twenty-five state legislatures have now made provision for state defense councils or similar bodies. Twenty-three of these councils were established by legislatures which have adjourned. Similar laws are pending in state bodies still in session.

New Pumper for Colorado Springs The 750-gallon American La France pumper recently put into service in the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Around the pumper are members of the department dressed for the Rodeo to be held August 14 to 17. With them is Miss Lucky Knowles, 1941 Girl of the West and Queen of the Rodeo.

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