OBSERVATIONS AND EXPERIENCES
A Fire Captain Should at All Times Profit by the Happenings of His Daily Routine Necessity of Knowing the Buildings in His District—Vital Importance of Frequent Inspections—Avoid Water Damage
AS we look back to the earlier days of the Fire Department and compare the present equipment with those of former times, we can readily see the disadvantages under which they worked and the causes for the losses and damages that today should be avoided. Improved construction of buildings and apparatus are two of the reasons for this. With inferior tools poor work is done; with up-to-date apparatus equipped with the various appliances for making ventilation, entrance, opening up and extinguishment of fires much easier and in less time than formerly more efficient service should and can be rendered. To this end the progressive officer as commandant of his company and liable to have temporary charge at a fire in absence of the battalion chief, and being first company arriving studies as the mechanic does, how he can accomplish the best the job before him. He talks with his fellow officers during leisure moments on the use of various pieces of equipment, on ventilation, lining in, placing of lines and how in his judgment better work would have been done if he had pursued a different course at this or that fire .of recent date. As the traveler studies the guide books of the places he wishes to visit, the automobilist his road maps, so the fireman should study the construction of all classes of buildings, industrial, office, apartment, tenement and private so that he will be familiar with general conditions confronting him at a fire in any one of these classes of buildings. His inspections should familiarize him with the contents of any storage plants and industrial enterprises in his district; with this knowledge he should know how to intelligently tackle the job.
Districts Vary as to Character of Building
Different districts vary as to the character of buildings in them ; some are residential, others have a number of office buildings and stores, others a large number of industrial plants, factories, etc. In the last named a thorough knowledge of construction and contents is necessary for the safety of his men as well as effective work in the prompt extinguishment of fires with the least possible damage to building and contents. Insurance is no excuse for reckless flooding or tearing down. A mechanic is judged by his work, so is the fire department. Water damage amounting to thousands of dollars can be done in industrial plants to electrical apparatus and supplies where only a trifling fire occurs, also in stores and other business places to stock, which a proper use of the shutoff nozzle would prevent. This is one of the improvements in equipment, the right use of which should be forciby impressed upon the hosemen. The combination nozzle has in addition to the shutoff, a relief nozzle or gun, which, if the line is working under heavy pressure, should be opened before closing shutoff; this is to relieve back pressure on steamer, after closing shutoff (which should always be done gradually), then close relief nozzle, the gun should be used in place of large nozzle when washing down in dwellings or small fires to prevent water damage. Office building fires originate in boiler rooms, store rooms and waste paper baskets under desks, or through carelessness of man who fires boiler, allowing dirty waste to accumulate and ignite spontaneously. The superintendent who allows accumulation of waste paper in store rooms where the match can be thrown after use, as is the case in the waste basket fire, is equally culpable.
Officer Should Know His District
The officer should know the location of all entrances to building, to cellar and boiler room, of all stairways and elevators, light shafts and to fire escapes if they are on rear of building, always bearing in mind the safety of the inmates may depend upon his individual action at some critical moment. Apartment and tenement house conditions are in general alike, the modern construction of these being better from the fire standpoint than the older type. A knowledge of their construction is a great help. When you roll in and see the smoke coming out of the cellar and you know the cellar ceiling beams are covered with fire retarding material, and that the fire stops are there between the beams, dumb waiter shafts have the metal-lined doors and also doors to stairway to first floor, this is a great comfort. On the other hand in the older type with no covering on the beams, no fire stops, dumb waiter shafts wooden lined, a harder job is ahead. Cover the dumb waiter shaft and cellar stairway on first floor with your first line. If fire has extended over the whole cellar which can be judged as you come in with second line through cellar areaway, direct your line along beams at both sides from front to rear to prevent extension of fire to upper part through space between studding. Examine walls on first floor along base board to see if it has started up, take off section of base board, don’t tear off half a side of room unless occasion demands it. Fires in the dwelling house type are generally alike in most respects, originating from carelessness in most cases. Careless use of matches and candles, overheated furnaces, wooden ash barrels, hunting gas leaks with matches or candle, and dirty oil stoves are some causes. The contents of the dwelling being of a character different from those of the business type where they vary so that the uncertainty as to what may be in there makes one cautious in entering. If the fire does not show, the smoke generally gives a pretty good idea of the location of it, and knowing general construction, he has his plan of action formed almost on the instant. If it shows up on the top floor window, a bed, closet, oil stove, or a room fire, is probably going and here is where another of the improvements (one of the greatest) comes into notice, the combination chemical and hose wagon with the 200 feet of 1″ hose attached to the 40-gallon chemical tank, its lightness making it quickly and easily handled. It is of utmost value in fires of this kind, backed up with the 2½” line or a second chemical line both equipped with the shut-ofT nozzle, he gets his fire with small water damage.
It may get into the cock loft or hanging ceiling space. If so, open up around scuttle hole and your chemical line can control and put out fire; don’t pull down ceiling if unnecessary, a blackened wall does not mean that fire is behind it. If your tank is used up, connect 2½ line from hydrant to it and you can use your 1” line as long as needed. Cock loft fires in rows of houses often extend through entire space or entire length of block (building codes now call for fire stops to under side of roof boards between buildings). Get scuttle off of building where fire started, this will act like a chimney drawing smoke, heat, and flame toward and through it and help to prevent extension of fires, then by opening around scuttle holes in the other houses and using the small nozzle, you can quickly put out any blaze there, remember that a few minutes use of the big line and big nozzle in a cock loft means the flooding of all top floors and damage to all partitions and hallways.
Avoid Damage by Water
At all fires on upper floors try to avoid excessive use of water; this can be done now by the use of shutoff nozzle. In earlier days word had to be sent to the engineer at steamer before water was turned off. Proper ventilation is necessary in many cases before fire can be located and attacked. Access to roof from adjoining buildings or by ladder is gained more quickly than by trying to get up through the smoke and heat in hallway of house in which the fire is. Take off the wooden scuttle when possible instead of smashing skylight. If not, be sure to warn men underneath. In opening window sash, drop the top ones, if opening from outside and window is locked, insert axe blade or Kelly Tool under lower sash and force catch, then drop sash, or raise if entrance is necessary. This tool is invaluable in opening locked doors by inserting and between door and jamb, the casings of doors and windows can be more easily removed with this tool than with an axe. In all cases apply the rule of 3; locate, surround and extinguish.
The better the officer understands construction and knows contents and surroundings of buildings, the better fitted he is to direct action. The battalion chief depends on captains of different companies for information as to contents of buildings in their inspection districts. Dwellings do not offer problems that business places do with the varied character and amounts of contents, inflammable, explosive and poisonous, throwing off suffocating fumes injurious to health and life, as those from some acids are. To know where such material is stored and how to get at it quickly and remove it if possible is of vital importance. Fix location of all exits, elevators, stairways, hose connections and accesses to roof in your mind, it may come in handy sooner than you think. Factory fires with the number of employees in them during working hours and character of material used present some tasks requiring cool head, quick and proper action. If the law is lived up to, the fire drills have made it possible to empty buildings of large number of employees in two or three minutes, so in majority of cases saving of life is not called for. If it is, divide force, so that steps to fight the fire can be taken at the same time. Up-to-date construction of factory and business places provides many improvements over the old type of buildings; mill construction, inside fireproof stairways, stand pipes (varying in size and number) with hose connected to cover all parts of floors according to size of building; fire walls with metal covered self closing doors, concrete floors, enclosed elevator shafts, sprinkler systems, metal receptacles for waste material all tend to keep blaze from spreading over a very large area.
Industrial Plants Offer most Difficult Problem
Industrial plant fires offer the most difficult problems to the fire fighter. Difference in types of construction of buildings (many of them constructed before the present building laws became effective) ; various firms under same roof, handling as many different kinds of material, the firm on the top floor using heavier machinery than the one on the first; character of material on second highly inflammable, perhaps in case of fire emitting deadly fumes; building old, light construction, unsprinklered, open stairways and elevator shafts. Such cases offer different problems from the up-to-date construction of reinforced concrete with fireproof stairways, enclosed elevator shafts with thin glass skylights, sprinkler system installed throughout, wire-glass in windows to prevent flames from jumping across shaft or to floors above, ample stair fire escapes in place of straight ladder down which only one can come from landing at same time, the chances of safety of men and confinement of fire to ffmall area are much better in the building of later type and the commandant leads his men in without feeling that “the old shack” is in danger of collapsing and is watching for something to give away. True, the dangerous back draft can exist there, but by keeping his men with line at one side, giving truckmen chance to open safely; then using stream directing it toward ceiling, the gases are cooled off, and gradually he works his way in, locates and extinguishes. Here is where the knowledge of character of contents learned by thorough inspection comes into play. The system of keeping inspection record of contents of all industrial plants and location of same for reference and study by members of company in whose inspection district the plant is located should be installed in every department.
“Fore-warned is fore-armed”—know the roads. Keep them clear—locate and fix in your memory the dangerous points of storage of stock, the ammonia tank valves and the sprinkler shutoffs. It will save the delay of hunting up the engineer or watchman. In short, know your district and when occasion requires—“you’re there !”
At the annual meeting of the New England Hand Engine League the delegates voted to accept the invitation of Narragansett Firemen’s Association of Wickford. R. I., to hold the next league meet in that town, Aug. 16. There will be 10 prizes, $200 for the first and $10 for the 10th. making a total of $675. The Judges will be G. A. Dow, president of the league; two Boston men, District Chief Shallow and Captain Philip Mock. Capt. P. Manning of Amesbury is secretary and on the tournament committee. Firemen’s associations from Wakefield, Bath, Me., and South Braintree were admitted to membership.