NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT ANNUAL REPORT
The lowest fire loss per capita as per fire on record in New York City and the first reduced budget since consolidation, 18 years ago, are among the achievements for 1915, shown by Fire Commissioner Robert Adamson, of New York, in his annual report submitted to Mayor Mitchel Although 24 new fire companies were put into service in new locations with payrolls of $515,000, and the force of civilian bureaus increased by $74,412, and although the average annual increase in the budget tor 18 years has been $313,659, the budgets for both 1915 and 1916 are reduced below that of 1914. Commissioner Adamson’s report, dated April 26, says:
Hon. John Purroy Mitchel,
Mayor, City of New York.
Sir: Three new records were established by this Department in 1915: First—The fire loss was the lowest per capita and per fire in the city’s history. Second—For 1915 we had the first reduced budget since the consolidation of the Greater City in 1898, and for 1916 we have the second. Third—We turned back to the city during 1915 and the year before 2y buildings and sites, valued at $418,000 and 11 buildings leased at $10,800 a year. The fire loss was lower by 32 cents per capita and $140 per fire than in any previous year, and the total loss lower by $2,400.793, than in 1914. We had 1,010 fewer fires, and an aggregate loss of only $5,757,018, as against $8,217,811 the preceding year. The per capita loss was only $1.00. The lowest previous loss was $1.38. The loss per fire was $429.11. The lowest previous loss—that of 1914—was $569.69. Since consolidation the average loss has been, per year, $8,215,264; per capita, $2.04; per fire, $709.75. Last year’s record, therefore, reduced this average by $2,450,600 in the annual loss, by 98 cents in the per capita and by $280 in the loss per fire. In only two other years since consolidation, a period of 18 years of rapidly growing population, has the total loss been below $7,060,000. In only one year, that the first year of consolidation, has it actually been lower in the aggregate than last year, namely, in 1898, when it was $3,186,890. In short, with eight times the population, the loss was actually nearly $1,000,000 less than in the first year after the creation of the paid Fire Department 50 years ago. Fires during the year numbered 13,416. Of these 7,951 were trivial blazes, extinguished without the aid even of a fire engine. One stream extinguished 3.509. From any single fire the heaviest loss was $130,IKK).
How the Budget Was Reduced.
Not less remarkable is the budget reduction. Up to 1015, for a period of 16 years, the Fire Department budget increased at the annual rate of $313,079—almost a million dollars every three ears. When your administration began fireouses for 20 companies were under construction. some of them practically completed. They were in newly built up sections of Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, The Bronx and Upper Manhattan where fire protection was urgently needed. For these houses not a dollar had been provided in the budget for men and equipment. When the Fire Commissioner asked for it in the fall of 1915 he was told to come back the next year and get it when the houses were ready. How to man these companies without a great increase in expense, and thus enforce the policy of economy to which your administration was pledged, was the first problem confronting me here. It has been solved. Companies have been placed in every one of these firehouses, and three other fire companies organized besides, one of them the Rescue Company—24 companies in all. For these 24 companies, the annual payroll and maintenance charges are approximately $515,000 a year. Employees to meet new duties have also been added to each of our three civilian bureaus of the Department at an increased cost of $74,412 a year. Despite this extension of service, not a dollar of additional appropriation was asked for to meet these increases. On the contrary, for the first time in the history of the Greater City, and, so far as 1 know, in the entire history of the Department, the budget was reduced instead of increased. This decrease in the budget for 1915 was $65,110, and in the budget for .1916 it amounts to $173,050. The means by which this was accomplished chiefly are these: Cost of supplies reduced, $294,647; vacant positions abolished, $95,990; details of 16 officers and 63 firemen revoked; fifteen fire companies, rendered obsolete by motorization and other causes, discontinued and 7 captains, 20 lieutenants, 20 engineers, 157 firemen and 4 pilots thereby released for dutyin newcompanies; repair shops, fuel depots, stables and storehouses consolidated; forty buildings and sites given up and cost of maintenance saved. This reduction was effected without dismissing employees, or wholesale salary reductions. Salaries of 113 employees were increased, and only 85 reduced. In all, only eight employees were actually dismissed from the Department in two years—2 horseshoers, 2 horseshoers’ helpers, 2 stablemen, 1 caulker and 1 watchman no longer needed because of the decrease in horses. Other employees whose places were abolished were taken care of by transfer to vacant positions in this or sonie other City Department. How rapidly reductions may be made by dropping only those positions which become vacant by death, resignation or retirement is shown by the fact that in two years our reductions by this method amounted to almost $100,000. These reductions in the budget are a permanent saving. The cost of maintaining these abolished activities and positions will not reappear as an annual item in the budget. The surrendered buildings and sites can be sold or rented and the proceeds used to reduce taxation. Had not these decreases and readjustments been made, we must, perforce, have increased the budget to the extent of the cost of new companies and employees, instead of reducing it, as we did, a difference of about threequarters of a million dollars. This Departmental revision was based upon a careful survey of the Department, its needs and requirements. Especially was great care exercised in respect to the fire companies discontinued. Most of the changes were made on the advice of Chief Kenlon and a Board of Chiefs In each instance action was based upon the past working record of the company at fires, and upon the recommendation of the Chief of Department that it was no longer needed in its old location. In this redistribution of 15 companies we have merely taken intelligent advantage of the changes wrought by motorization and the evolution in fire conditions. Most of the companies were obsolete where they were. One of them, located almost within stone’s throw of another company, Chief Lally stated, might have been discontinued years ago without a particle of disadvantage to the service. One company worked at only 29 fires in three years, and on each occasion at least three other companies were present.
Causes of Reduced Fire Loss.
To three causes the reduced fire loss may be attributed: Systematic extension of fire prevention, monthly building inspections by firemen and increased efficiency of the uniformed force, due to the Fire College and School of Instruction training. More sprinklers were installed under fire prevention orders in 1915 than in any previous year, and the greatest amount of substantial structural fire prevention work in buildings was secured. This is because 300 firemen, one in each company district, relieved the F’ire Prevention Inspectors of the houskeeping inspections and left them free for the more effective and permanent form of structural fire prevention work. The 300 firemen inspectors made 1,500,000 inspections during the year, and corrected 50,000 fire producing conditions by verbal requests. Their work caused buildings generally to be kept in better condition and undoubtedly substantially reduced the number of fires. Specific proof of the effect of structural fire prevention work upon the loss is supplied by official reports of many fires by officers in charge. These tell of fires extinguished by sprinklers, of fires checked and loss curtailed by fire prevention installations.
Where Fire Prevention Prevented.
Acting Chief Martin reported that a fire wall prevented a three alarm fire from becoming a conflagration. Captain Callagy reported two fires extinguished by sprinklers. Captain Dunn reported an East 8th street factory fire was held in check by a sprinkler until firemen arrived. Two fires in a Pearl street factory, at different times during the year, were kept from going to upper floors by a fireproof elevator enclosure. Automatic fire doors confined a serious fire to the cellar of a lower Broadway building. Another cellar fire two doors away was similarity confined and extinguished by a sprinkler. Fire doors prevented fire in a Brooklyn factory from extending to two connecting factory buildings. The same thing occurred in a large upper Fifth Avenue factory. These are but a few instances, taken at random. Scores might be cited. The attached report of Chief Hammittt tells of five lodging house fires checked, and panic and loss of life undoubtedly prevented, by recently installed fire prevention work. These instances suffice to indicate the class of fire prevention work being done and its effect in reducing fire loss. Open stairs and open elevator shafts and trap doors provide ready made flues for flames, and in buildings where such openings are not protected fire spreads with incredible rapidity. Had the stairways of the Brooklyn factory, in which 13 lives were lost by fire last November, been enclosed the fire would doubtless have been confined to the first floor, and no lives have been lost. As it was. the flames swept through the building inside of five minutes. Another factor in reducing the loss is the increased efficiency of the uniformed force. This is strikingly shown by reduced consumption of water at fires. Chief Kenlon reports only 47,683,2S3 gallons used last year. How much the force has improved in this respect is shown by the fact that in 1914, 76,826,586 gallons were used; in 1913, 114,606,785 gallons, and in 1912. 150,150,654 gallons. This is a direct result of Fire College training. Officers are instructed not to turn on water until it can be effectively used and to turn it off instantly when the fire is out. A minor, but still an interesting factor, in reducing the loss is the new “Smoke Squad.” This company is provided with oxygen helmets which fit over the head and shoulders like divers’ suits. Pulmotors, lungmotors, life lines, oxygen tanks, life guns and a special device for sawing iron and steel bars are a part of their equipment. They respond to fires where smoke and fumes are so dense that other firemen cannot enter the building. Last year they worked 71 dangerous and difficult fires. At many, they carried effective streams right up to the seat of the fire and quickly extinguished it. A similar company for Brooklyn will be installed in the coming year.
Department Now Half Motorized.
In mechanical equipment, the fire fighting force last year made material advance. Almost exactly half the apparatus of the Department is now motorized. Companies which have been motorized number 147, while horse-drawn companies number 148. We have 233 pieces of motorized and 280 pieces of horse-drawn apparatus. During the year six new gasoline pumping engines, replacing old fashioned coal burning engines, were purchased. In 1915, 92, and in 1914, 76 pieces of motor apparatus were added to the Department—168 in all.
Where Fires Occurred.
Carelessness continued to hold first place as the cause of fires, and the great majority of fires continued to occur in homes of the people. Of the total number of fires (13,416) 8.960 occurred in places in which people live. As 1.961 of tlie year’s fires occurred outside buildings, only 2,495 fires, therefore, occurred in buildings other than homes. In other words, we had 8,960 in homes and only 2,495 in other buildings. The remedy for this condition is obvious—greater care in the home. A marked increase was shown in factory fires—845 in 1915, as compared with 540 in 1914—a fact probably attributable to the increase in hazardous manufacturing incidental to the war. On the other hand there was a great decrease in fires in lofts and business buildings. In 1914 there were 1,285 fires in this class of buildings; in 1915 only 443.
New Fire Alarm System in Manhattan.
After years of agitation, money was finally appropriated last year for a new fire alarm system in Manhattan Borough. Plans and specifications for all sections of the new system are being prepared by our engineering force, and contracts should be let before the coming summer. I intend to push the new system to completion in the shortest possible time. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment appropriated $875,000 for the work, which, with the balance of unexpended appropriations on hand, will enable us to complete the construction. A reduction in insurance rates of no less than 16 per cent, on the cost of the system will be made by the Fire Insurance Exchange in recognition of the new system, when complete. Before action was taken on my request for the appropriation, I formally asked the Exchange what reduction in rates would be made provided a new fire alarm system was constructed. By formal resolution the Exchange agreed that upon the installation of the new system “in accordance with plans and specifications for building and equipment approved and to be approved by the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, a reduction of 1 per cent, be made in the rates of the New York Fire Insurance Exchange existing at the time such installation is completed.” In order that property owners may realize the benefit of this offer, we are submitting copies of all plans of the Underwriters’ engineers, who, so far, have approved them, and who have given us valuable help and co-operation. All underground subways for the system are to be furnished by the Empire City Subway Company, under the terms of its contract with the city. This space is to be supplied to us without cost.
New System Needed in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
There is now pending before the Board of Estimate and Appointment my application for $630,000 for a permanent, modern fire alarm installation, covering one-third of Brooklyn, and for $545,850 for a new system in the southern half of the Bronx. I strongly urge that these appropriations be granted. Overhead wires in these boroughs are at the mercy oi any storm. Nine storms last winter kept us in a continual state of anxiety. In the storm of March last, 1,142 out of 1,718 fire alarm boxes were put out of commission. In the storm of December last, 423 of the 481 boxes in the Bronx were put out of service, and many of them remained out approximately four days. We were compelled to establish a temporary patrol of firemen to go through the street and report and extinguish fires. The labor force of the fire alarm telegraph bureau was utterly insufficient to make the emergency repairs. An auxiliary squad of linemen, consisting of seventeen firemen, experienced in that kind of work, was formed to assist the bureau in restoring alarm service.
Bureau of Fire Investigation.
On July 1, 1915, the fire marshal’s bureau was detached from the bureau of fire prevention and organized into a separate bureau, known as the bureau of fire investigation. Fire Marshal Thomas P. Brophy, who had done excellent and energetic work in Brooklyn in detecting cases of arson, was made acting chief of the bureau. Incendiary fires incidental to the war have given this bureau a great deal of difficult work during the year. Excellent work has been done by the bureau so far. During the year, 50 persons were arrested and 36 persons convicted by this bureau.
Prospect of Further Reductions.
On the whole, we feel that the results achieved throughout the department during the year were highly satisfactory. In particular, are the reductions in fire loss and the budget encouraging. The significance of these results is that they definitely mark the turning point in the campaign to reduce the fire loss by fire prevention and to check for the first time the annually increasing cost of the department. The work of fire prevention has by no means been completed. Nor have the possibilities of revision and readjustment in the administrative processes of the department been exhausted. I believe that by the energetic continuation of the administrative activities and processes by which the reductions of last year were secured, we should continue to reduce the normal average fire loss of the city and, at least, prevent for some time to come, a return of the era of increasing budgets.
I have the honor to recommend the following measures for the future improvement of the department: (1) That motorization be completed as rapidly as possible. This not only increases efficiency by extending the radius of operation, and making possible quicker response to fires, but such is the economy in operation of motor as opposed to horse-drawn apparatus that if all apparatus were now motorized a saving of $132,000 a year could be made; (2) that pending applications for modernizing fire alarm systems in Brooklyn and the Bronx be granted; (3) that funds be provided for a new central fire house in Jamaica in which the four fire companies in that section may be located; (4) that the high pressure system be extended from 34th street to 59th street, Manhattan, through the eastern district of Brooklyn, and into the Rockaway section of Queens; (5) that the purchase and operation of private fire alarm companies as a part of our system, be authorized; (6) that steps be taken by the water department by which sprinklers, to be connected with the city’s water system and operated by pressure from the mains, may be installed in cellars of tenement houses. I am advised if this is done, sprinklers can be installed at a cost of $75 per building, which sum could easily be saved by the reduction in insurance. Such installations would greatly reduce the loss of life from fire in tenement houses; (7) that the water department be requested to make further investigation of the feasibility of increasing pressure in the Croton mains for the operation of sprinklers in factories and other buildings. This would eliminate the cost to the owner of roof tanks and pumps where sprinklers are installed and greatly accelerated sprinkler installations. I transmit herewith reports from heads of the various bureaus of this department, showing in detail the operations of the department for the year. I also attach hereto a postscript giving a summary of the principal changes made in this department during your administration. Very respectfully,
(Signed) ROBERT ADAMSON, Fire Commissioner.