ONE OF THE RESULTS OF A FIRE.
Every man, whether he lays a claim to exceptional inventive genius or not, thinks that he can readily devise a fire escape which will forever more effectually prevent destruction of life by fire. Perhaps a single exception should be made in favor of Firemen, for the more a man learns about the indefinite details connected with fire extinguishment, the less he pretends to be able to ward off its dangers. But every man who has not had experience as a Fireman feels that it is his duty to teach Firemen their business: It is a debt owed humanity ; and to a person who has read the newspapers lately it would seem that a great many old debts were being liquidated. A fire in New York at which seven lives were lost, served to arouse many men to a sense of duty, and they have been flooding the press with their alleged ideas ever since. Some of the letters which have been printed contained judicious, simple, and valuable recommendations, but the majority of the opinions expressed have been extremely ludirous and utterly valueless.
The paramount idea which should obtain in considering the subject of fire escapes is usually lost sight of. A fire escape to be of any service when needed should be so simple in every respect that the most confused and frightened inmates of a burning building would naturally take advantage of the means of reaching a place of safety intended to be afforded him by the inventor. There maybe something in the thought that an intricate and clumsy piece of apparatus will sell as well and at a better price than one simpler and more easily comprehended. The defective character of most fire escapes already erected may thus be accounted for, but as the letters to which we have referred are voluntarily offered to whomsoever cares to act upon their suggestions their writers are entirely disinterested in the matter, and are therefore entitled to respectful attention. One man says, ” Let every Engine or Hook and Ladder Company be supplied with one or more large, short-barrelled, smooth-bore guns, to be fired from the shoulder, carrying a wooden ball or plug, to which is attached a strong cord, by means of which a rope, or, still better, a rope ladder, may be drawn up and fastened to the window sfll by a large hook. The tiring charge should be sufficiently large to carry to the upper windows of the highest buildings. With the rope or ladder could also be sent a block, through which a rope is rove, to one end of which a large basket is secured. The block could be made fast to the window in the same manner as the rope. The basket could then be hauled up, and and timid or disabled persons safely lowered to the ground. To the basket should also be attached another rope, by which, if necessary, it could be drawn out from the buildings in its descent.” Another man, evidently a trapese artist or a sailor on a fiat boat, succinctly explains how he would manage matters : ” Run a cable the length of a block of houses. Have two arms projecting out eighteen inches from each house to fasten the cable to. Then have a double biock, the top sheaf to run on the cable, and the lower one to have an endless chain run through it. Let it come down to the sidewalk so the Firemen can handle it. Then have a folding wire basket that they can hook on and raise to any floor where the fire is and rescue those in danger.” Another person, who has probably never heard that hatchway coverings can be opened and shut automatically, writes : “As it is generally known that hatchways and elevator shafts are the most dangerous places in buildings in case of fire, I would suggest that hatch doors be placed on every floor, all to be connected with a single rope running from ground floor to roof, so that all the doors can be opened or shut at once. Such an arrangement in many cases would give the occupants more than time to escape, and might sometimes serve to confine the fire to one part of the building.” “ To prevent, in future, the loss of life by fire, I would suggest,” says the next man, with an irresistable impulse to help his fellow-man, or rather to spread himself on paper, “as an inside means of escape from the top stories of the lofty buildings now constructed, the use of parachutes. Then I would have every Hook and Ladder Truck supplied with four ten-foot poles set in footholds and braced at an angle of 45 degrees, with a stout India rubber cloth or blanket fastened to each at the top, and a corresponding cloth five feet below ; the poles to be from ten to twenty feet apart. This apparatus, being light, could be easily moved. A moment’s reflection will show its superiority to a blanket held by men, which is too close to the ground and is likely to be jerked from their hands by people jumping into it.’’
Next on the list comes a man who bolongs to that unhappy class which is always imagining that it is going to rain. Doubtless, he makes a practice of always carrying an umbrella, for he asks with some timidity, “ Would not a strong umbrella, held open over one’s head, when jumping from a burning building, so retard descent as to be of value in such cases ?” A toxophilite remarks: “ The suggestion that the bow and arrow be used to save life at fires is most excellent. The same principle, rockets being substituted for arrows, has long been employed on the coast in rescuing people from stranded vessels. Not only might the fire companies be equipped with this inexpensive apparatus, but buildings as well. Our archery clubs could have rare sport in practicing at window targets arranged on a pole 100 feet tall.” Thus exclaims the gentleman who forgets to give his name : “ Why are not fire escapes like those in England used in this country ? I saw them in London five years ago and thought them excellent. I was talking about them to an Englishman, and he says they are perfection. If snch things can be had, why are men and women allowed to be roasted alive in this enlightened age?” “ Nothing but commendation is due the Firemen for their acts at the great fire,” writes another, “ but what ought to be said in condemnation of their superiors, whose negligent omission keeps the Department from the use of large nets to catch those who are driven by the fire to the windows for safety, only to meet death on the stones below ? With these appliances, every life lost at the fire could have been saved.” An anonymous correspondent of a “ religious ” journal advances the opinion that lives could be saved if the Hook and Ladder Companies carried rope ladders attached to a hollow zinc bar long enough to rest securely between the sides of a window frame. This arrangement, he thinks, could be taken up as high as the ladders would permit and then thrown up by means of a cord to persons imprisoned above. A man away out at Laugtuack, Mich., read about the fire, and the conclusion that he arrived at has considerable to recommend it. His idea of a safe fire escape is a shelf below the window sill, say six inches wide, to run the whole length of every store or block, and about three feet above the shelf a small rod of iron running parallel with the shelf, to hold on by. That would enable any one in a burning building to escape without much difficulty. Every story, at least $very story above the second floor, should be furnished with something of this kind. This arrangement would be of value at times but not always. Although it covers the building completely it does not cover the entire ground. Sometimes a person in a burning building is such a thorough captive that no opportunity to pass from one window to another permits itself, so fiercely do the flames rage. A “ simple ” contrivance is thus described by its inventor: “ Permit me to suggest a substitute for the blankets and tarpaulins at present used at fires as makeshifts for jump escapes. Use four posts, inclined apart and sustaining between them a twentyfoot square rubber stretcher or mattress, inflated with air by say four pairs of bellows. The posts might be rigged with a guy rope at each corner, to be held by the bystanders. This simple contrivance could be added to the apparatus of every fire district, and those who have witnessed large fires will admit that it would save lives. Besides, it would prevent broken bones, for, even without inflation, it would be more effective than the wretched expedients now used.” The coiled rope has many champions, “ Here is a cheap, sure and easy way of saving life in burning buildings, Let every landlord owing tenements, office buildings, and especially workshops, be compelled to furnish the windows with an eyebolt of good round iron five-eighths or threefourths of an inch in diameter, the bolt to be put through the solid casing from the inside of the window at least two or three feet from the bottom of the window, with the eye of the bolt inside, and a nut or burr on the outside of the house. Fasten securely one end of the rope to the eye or ring of the bolt. The balance of the rope, which must be long enough to reach the street or yard, can be coiled neatly when not in use. It should be without knots, and hung on to the eye of the bolt so that it can be slung out in an instant, and any number can slide down it in safety.” “ In all buildings—especially those higher than three stories, and in which many persons are employed—there should be securely fastened besides each window a coiled rope ascertained to be long enough to reach to the ground, with knots twelve or fifteen inches apart; the upper end, say ten feet, to be a piece of irou chain or wire rope in the event that when thrown out of a window flame cannot burn it off. Such a fire escape, while being inexpensive, can be at once placed where needed without the delay of building fire escapes, and city Governments should compel every owner of a building where many persons are employed to provide some such means of escape.
General Meigs, the well-known railroad builder, civil engineer and warrior, recommends the use of bows and arrows to rescue people cut off from ordinary means of exit. The veteran refers to the performances of the soldiers of King David, Nebuchadnezzar, Sesostris, and Cambyses as showing the power of the bow, and says that he himself has thrown an arrow over the Washington Monument, 180 feet high. Even as the projectile from the gun of the life-saving service bears a line establishing communication with the shore, so an arrow thrown into the window of a burning building would enable a knotted rope to be drawn up, down which the people in danger could let themselves. The idea has possibilities, but it is evident that there is a very different set of circumstances in the case of a wreck, and in the case of a burning building. The apparatus of a life-saving service may fail after several attempts, and yet time for rescue remain ; but when people are caught in a burning building, the few terrible moments that intervene before death comes admit of no failure or uncertainty in any efforts for their rescue. Speaking of improvements in fire escapes, Chief Engineer Bates said his opinion was that there should be more dependence upon fire escapes attached to buildings than to those carried by the Fire Department. There is always the danger of a delay in giving the alarm. People often try to put out a fire themselves before sending word to the Firemen. That is the natural impulse. The few moments that are lost at the beginning of a fire are the fatal ones. The loss of life usually occur before the Firemen arrive. The apparatus is now so heavy that it will not bear more loading. A Brooklyn inventor was so confident that he had produced an available safety blanket that he agreed to jump into it himself. The blanket was held by twenty stout Firemen, and he jumped from the second story. He came down with such force that he struck the sidewalk, and injured himself severely. He was willing to jump from the fourth floor but feared that he would be killed. The subject remains open for further research.
—A Sing Sing, N. Y., paper says the ball of Protection Hose Company was attended by the youth, beauty and fashion of the village. It was preceded by tableaux illustrative of the various phases of a Fireman’s life, a feature which is worthy of emulation. Foreman Lawrence was presented w’ith a trumpet.