Paper and Rag Storehouse Fires
Difficult Fires to Handle—Floor Failures Common—Dense Smoke is Characteristic
IT HAS often been said that the waste paper and rag warehouse fire costs more to extinguish than the value of the property saved. While this may be true, insofar as the stock is concerned, frequently the structure itself is comparatively modern, and the destruction of the building represents a considerable loss. Stock is usually piled high on all floors, due to the necessity of economizing in space. The more modern establishments have baling machines in which waste paper and rags are baled. Naturally then in the baled form these materials represent considerably more waste per unit of volume than when loose. However, they do not burn as readily in the more compact form and the extinguishing problem in such an instance is not as severe as in the case where materials are stored in bulk.
The small waste establishment usually occupies a dilapidated frame or brick and joist building while the larger concern may use a reinforced concrete structure. It all depends on the scale on which operations are conducted.
But the materials themselves, once they take fire, act the same in all cases.
Probably the greatest hazard in connection with this type of fire is the likelihood of floors falling. Records of this type of fire indicate that in a very large percentage of cases, where an entire building is involved, the floors give way long before they would be expected in any other type of fire due to the absorption of great quantities of water by the stock.
When stored loosely, these materials may absorb several times their weight in water and the combined weight is frequently sufficient to pull the floor beams out of their supporting positions in the wall with the ultimate result of landing either on the ground floor, or else in the basement.
Another factor which must be considered in fires in this type of structure is the tendency of materials to expand when wetted. This applies particularly to paper. In one large fire in New York where rolled paper was stored, in expanding it exerted sufficient pressure to force the walls away from the beam ends of a modern reinforced concrete structure.
The vast clouds of pungent smoke thrown off by the waste fire makes it particularly difficult for the firemen to handle. It is often impossible to get at the seat of the fire even though it is still in its early stages, and the use of liberal quantities of water is thus made necessary, whereas if the lines could be stretched to the point where the fire is burning, but a few minutes work would be required to darken the blaze.
Naturally ventilation is of prime importance at the fire in this type of establishment. If thorough ventilation is accomplished, the work of the men will be very much eased up and the saving may be considerable.
Due to the danger of floors falling, where large streams may be in operation, or when small streams have been in operation for some time, men must be kept out of the building entirely and operations carried on from window sills, from roofs of adjoining buildings, and from other points of vantage.
More men are knocked out or injured per dollar of value involved at the rag or paper warehouse then possibly at any other fire handled by the average department.
The small establishment fire does not represent much of a task for the fire department, for if the concern is located in a dilapidated building little attention need be given to saving property. The salvage will not be great in any case, once the fire is extinguished, and the structural damage to the building need not be considered.
On the other hand, where a large modern building is involved, the same care must be exercised as would be exercised at any other mercantile building blaze.
As usual, the first operation at this type of fire is to ventilate thoroughly—even more so than in most types of establishments. Then more lines are stretched to the scene of the fire if men can penetrate the building. Usually a dash of water will darken the fire, and then the work of overhauling the mass comes in.
In overhauling it is necessary to completely remove the stock to make sure that every bit of fire is out. A remaining spark may again rekindle the fire after the department leaves and the work will have to be done all over again.
It is only where fire has extended so as to involve an entire floor and require large quantities of water that great care must be exercised on the part of officers to keep the men from the floors beneath. It is not likely that floors will be weakened by fire in the early stages of the blaze sufficiently to cause their collapse; and the result of survey of a great number of fires in this type of establishment indicates that in practically every case the floors give way due to overloading incidental to discharge of large quantities of water on the burning materials.