NEW PERILS TO WHICH FIREMEN ARE EXPOSED.
THE demand that all electric wires in large cities—telegraph, telephone and electric light—shall be placed under ground, becomes more imperative with each day’s added experience. In several of the larger cities the subject has been agitated for a number of years, but no practical results have been obtained. The unsightly wires are still strung on objectionable poles, and the number is being added to almost daily. The introduction of the electric light system, with its long lines of large, highly charged wires, suspended on the same poles with other electric wires, has added greatly to the perils to which Firemen are exposed. The Scientific American, an authority on such subjects, recently pointed out some of these new dangers. The promoters of electric lighting confidently promised at first that the new illuminant would insure’complete immunity from the peculiar fire risks, and dangers to life and health incident to the use of gas. The promise has been fulfilled; but unexpectedly, the use of electricity for public lighting has developed a variety of public perils as numerous and serious as any due to illuminating gas, and far more subtile. Scarcely a day passes without some new and surprising development of this character, and though the discovered perils may not always be essential to and inseparable from the use of electric lights, the majority of them certainly are the inevitable consequence of the present mode of distributing the electric current by means of wires suspended in the air.
The enormous extension of telegraphic and telephonic communication in this and other American cities, has filled the air with electric wires, with connections in almost every house. The wires, and the instruments used with them, are designed for service with currents of small quantity and high tension. Until the introduction of suspended conductors for the larger currents employed in electric lighting, the multitudinous telegraph and telephonic wires were no more than harmless offenders against good taste. Crossed by electric light conductors they at once become the means of ever impending fire hazard, for the current diverted by the slightest contact with an electric light conductor, suffices to heat the coils of telephones and telegraphic instruments to such a degree as to destroy them, and at the same time set fire to any combustible matter near at hand.
But this is not the only peril incident to such contacts. An officer of the Fire Department of this city reports that during a recent fire the Assistant Foreman of a Fire Company received a severe shock when he went to release the key of a fire-alarm box near the scene of the fire. The inference was that the fire telegraph wire had been accidentally crossed by an electric light wire, and that, had the pavement been damp on which the Fireman stood, so as to make good “ ground,” the current passing through his body might have killed him on the spot. Only a few days before, an accidental contact of an electric light wire with a fire service telegraph wire, resulted in the destruction of the electro-magnets in a dozen fire-alarm boxes in Nassau, Liberty, Fulton, Beekman, Greenwich and Hudson streets. By spoiling the means of instant communication with the fire service, in case a fire should break out, an accident of this nature is obviously a very serious affair. And quite as undesirable as the interruption of the firealarm service is the development of a feeling among Firemen and citizens generally, that the legitimate use of an alarm box involves a peril that may be as sudden and deadly as a stroke of lightning. Telegraphic.switch boards and telephonic instruments are similarly made more or less hazardous to use by the same misdirection of electric light currents.
Still more recently, at a fire in Fourteenth street, some broken telegraph wires in front of the burning building fell across an electric light wire, and became entangled with the Firemen’s hose. It is probable that the heated telegraph wires burst through the insulating cover of the electric light wires, so as to establish contact. At any rate, when a Fireman went to free the hose from the wires he received a severe shock. Enough of the current of the electric light wire had been diverted through the broken telegraph wires to the ground to make it unpleasant, if not dangerous to handle them.
It is submitted that, so long as the present system of suspending electric light wires on poles is maintained, one or more members of each Fire Company should be instructed in the art of manipulating electric conductors, so as to be able to cut and secure any electric light wires that the Firemen might encounter or with which broken telephone or telegraph wires might be dangerously fouled. The fire authorities suggest that the engine houses be telephonically connected with the electric light stations, so that an electrician may be called when needed for such service. But that method would be too slow and uncertain ; the cutting and securing of electic light wires is a simple matter, and the man to do it should be always on hand. To facilitate such work, or rather, to make it unnecessary, it would be easy for the electric lighting companies to provide at suitable intervals, for the use of Firemen, properly guarded switches, or other means for cutting out from any fire threatened block any electric currents which might be liable to trouble or imperil the Firemen. Better still would a law requiring all electric light conductors to be securely boxed or buried, so as to be out of the way of possible contact with telegraph or telephone wires. The street mains might be placed against or under the curbstones or beneath the sidewalk, and under the pavement at street crossings. This at one stroke would eliminate the graver perils incident to the present method of running the lines through the air.
With the rapid extension of electric lighting by means of arc lights, the hazard of life and property arising from misdirected currents has suddenly become one of the most serious as well as alarming of city evils. And it is certain that were the community to fully realize the subtlety, pervasiveness and indeterminableness of the perils arising from vagrant electricity, as it would if each diversion of an electric light current were accompanied, as the not more dangerous lightning stroke is, by a peal of thunder, there would arise a speedy and positive demand for the adoption of safer modes of distributing this useful but treacherous agent. One thing is evident: the present mode of suspending electric light wires will not answer. And the sooner the electric lighting companies adopt a better method the better it will be for them, as well as for the public at large, for every day’s extension of the present system increases the cost of displacing it, and its ultimate displacement is inevitable.