New York Stages Pier Fire Fighting Demonstration

New York Stages Pier Fire Fighting Demonstration

An alarm of fire was turned in via A.D.T. box, on Pier 92, North River, Manhattan, September 20, 1950, with the full approval of city and the fire department officials who openly “aided and abetted.”

Present also, as witnesses, were scores of delegates to the International Municipal Signalmen’s Convention, in session that week at the Hotel Commodore, a large aggregation of visiting chiefs, fire insurance rating board officials, fire prevention engineers, newspaper men and fire buffs.

While cameras flashed. City Commissioner of Marine and Aviation, Edward F. Cavenaugh, Jr., snapped the A.D.T. pier box at 10:30 a.m. Slightly over a minute later the whistle of Engine 2 (no sirens in the N.Y.F.D. !) was heard and within a minute or two more the full alarm assignment of four engines, two ladder trucks, deputy and battalion chiefs, and searchlight rig 24 were in operation. Soon after, the fireboat Duane and the Marine Division Tender “Smoke,” with Deputy Chief of Department Holian, in charge were at the pierhead.

Purpose of the demonstration was to test out new techniques, involving new protective features and equipment on the city’s piers. The pier selected for the show was located at West 52nd Street, just upriver from that at which the liner Normandie burned and capsized. It is one of those recently remodelled to embody fire safety features developed by the New York Fire Department.

Of course the stage had been set for the event. As the Commissioner sent the alarm, several firemen, who had been quietly inconspicuous until then, touched off smoke bombs in small round holes located in the pier’s thick concrete floor. Metal covers were then replaced over these openings. Realistic puffs of smoke were curling upward as the first fire companies pulled onto the pier.

While the top brass of the several city departments and the small army of spectators observed carefully, the waves of fire fighters went swiftly and seriously to work. Engine 2’s pumpers connected to the pier standpipe system, at bulkhead, while its hose tender laid out the first line. Engines 56, 40 and 23 took suction off the pier. Ladders 4 and 35 remained at bulkhead, their crews carrying out tools to “open up.” Lines were stretched to numerous of the small openings and special distributor nozzles attached. Of these the most interesting to the watchers was the new Quayle nozzle, named after Fire Commissioner Frank Quayle, which is so designed as to discharge a heavy spray vertically as well as laterally after the line is dropped to the right depth through the pier aperture. As the pier took on the smoke charged resemblance to an actual heavy fire, Searchlight 24 went into operation. The dramatics of the moment were further heightened when the overhead pier sprinkler system was turned on and a young Niagara descended over a supposedly burning area.

By 10:30 the simulated fire, which supposedly had been burning in the piles and under pier structure, was considered out.

The main factor of the test, it was explained, was the series of small openings in the deck of the pier. Without these openings, which are new to New York’s pier structures if not so new to some other seaports, it is virtually impossible to get at a fire burning in the pier substructure. Lack of such openings were chief contributors to the costly and serious fires in the Cunard, Grace and other piers.

Fire department officials explained that 175 small apertures had been cut through the floor of Pier 92 at regular intervals as part of the safety remodeling recently done. These openings are so arranged that they can cut off the pier horizontally, and there are sufficient of them so that they will not all be covered by cargo, even should pier workers be careless in their cargo handling. In addition to these openings for fire department nozzles, concrete fire walls have been built along the pilings and a sprinkler system installed.

These improvements are said to be in order for some 112 city-owned piers as a result of safety studies made following the Grace Line Pier fire. Cost of the safety improvement program, according to Commissioner Cavenaugh, will exceed $4 million.

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