Photography and Fire Prevention
IN the spring of 1949, we of the Rockford Fire Department could see the necessity of using pictures in getting compliance with our fire ordinances. By selling the war assets obtained from the Government, which were of no use to our department, we received enough money to purchase a camera and darkroom equipment.
We found a spot just off the Fire Prevention Office, in our headquarters building, that had a sink and running water; so we partitioned this space off and made a darkroom, which is about six feet wide, and fifteen feet long. We equipped this room with work tables and files, and painted everything within the room a dark color, which we found was necessary due to light reflection. I must give credit to a local newspaper photographer, who advised us on what to buy and how to lay out our darkroom.
We first purchased a Graflex Speed Graphic Camera, that takes a 4 x 5 negative; next, we purchased an Omega, D—2 enlarger, trays, and all the small things that go with developing pictures. One Inspector, who had made amateur photography his hobby, was put in charge of all the photography work and developing.
We have two Fire Prevention Inspectors in our department, who handle all inspections of special natures, such as theatres, rooming houses, hotels, public assembly balls, gasoline installations, etc.
Regular inspections by 2-way F.M., radio-equipped fire companies are made of their respective districts. If they find anything of any importance, they immediately notify, or radio this information to the fire alarm office; the Fire Inspectors respond as soon as possible, and the Inspector-Photographer photographs the hazard. They then return to the darkroom and develop the pcture; within an hour or so. they can show the owner, or occupant, the picture.
Right then an agreement is Usually made to correct the violation, or a warrant will be forthcoming for his. or her, arrest. The arrests are few and far between, as the pictures will bring compliance in ten out of ten cases.
The photograph of the hazard always shows up the violation better than the naked eye can see it, as one’s eye is often distracted by supporting scenes around the hazard, but in a photograph, one’s attention is focused directly on the hazard.
All pictures are enlarged to 8 x 10 inches, which makes a better picture for further study back in the office, after making an inspection. In several instances, violations or important points were brought forth which were overlooked when the picture was first studied.
All Important Fires Photographed
All important fires are photographed, and pictures are taken of fire-fighting methods, so that if any mistakes were made, they can be corrected at the next fire. In this way, we are constantly improving our efficiency.
In many instances, owners, or home offices of industries or business establishments have to be contacted in other cities, in order to get compliance. The photograph is often mailed to the owner, or home office, and will usually get a quicker compliance than the inspection report alone.
Photographs are kept on file, as well as the negatives, which are often used for reproductions.
In arson cases, or suspected incendiary fires, photographs are taken of anything pertinent to the fire, and this is admitted as evidence in court. Our Corporation Counsel advised us that all photographs must bear the name of the camera, and the direction that the camera was pointed when taking the picture, which data appear on the back of the pictures. The photographer’s name and the date must also appear in order to make the photograph legal.
In the photograph. Fig. 1, is shown a fire escape located on a large fivestory department store. This fire escape had to be of the counter-balance type to allow trucks and cars to drive underneath. In making this inspection, the Inspectors found that the bottom step of the escape terminated 58″ from the ground when the counter-balance was lowered. Anyone using it, would have had to leap the 58″ to ground level.
The home office of this large store was located in another city, and the photograph bad to be mailed along with an order to extend the counterbalance to ground level. Compliance was made immediately, as is shown in Fig. 2.
In Fig. 3 is shown the illegal storage of Liquefied Petroleum Gas, in Fire Zone Number 1. The proprietor of this establishment refused to comply with the Fire Department’s order; so the case was taken to court along with the picture, which was introduced as evidence. After two days of debate, the verdict was awarded to the Fire Department, and the Liquefied Petroleum Gas was immediately taken outside of the city.
Photograph, Fig. 4. was taken in an alley in a business section of our city, and you will note the wood construction of storage sheds, which were used to store paints, tarpaulins, thinners, etc. This structure was attached to a hardware store. The center shed beneath the stairway was a storehouse for a drugstore. Five gallons of Naphtha, in glass jugs, was on a shelf beneath the window shown in the picture. Other potent material stored here was a 100 pound barrel of cyanide. The stairway was a means of rear egress for six apartments upstairs. The shed to the right was a storehouse for a shoe store and was used as a storeroom for empty shoe boxes.
Fig. 5 was taken after compliance was completed. All old sheds were removed and cement block building replaced shed in rear of hardware store.
Fig. 6 was taken in a five-story industrial building, the first floor of which was used for storage of cyanide, potassium, and demijohns of acids. The upper floors of this plant were occupied by many employees. Cyanide, under the proper conditions, produces a gas, which is extremely deadly, and this condition could be caused if a sprinkler head were to go off.
The close proximity of the elevator would permit quick spread of the fumes to the upper floors of the factory. An order was issued for the removal of all these containers, and they are now located in an isolated spot outside the city of Rockford.
The rooming house ordinance in the city of Rockford places all rooming houses under the jurisdiction of the Fire Department; the minimum of a yearly inspection must be made in over two hundred rooming houses. Fig. 7 shows an old electric panel hoard in the basement of a rooming house, which was installed when the house was a private residence. Present occupancy of five families made this service inadequate.
Occupants of house complained they were continually blowing fuses and it was necessary to put pennies behind the fuses to have electricity. The wire seen at top of picture is a ground wire, attached to a water pipe. When this inspection was made, five pennies were removed by the Inspectors from the fuse box.
Because of the foregoing, we issued an order to rewire the entire house, or it would be closed for occupancy. In Fig. 8 the new service is shown. after we used the former photograph as a warning to the owner.
Photograph shown in Fig. 9 was taken in a newly annexed section, that just recently became part of the city of Rockford, and belongs to a large oil company. These bulk plant storage tanks did not have the proper diking facilities, and according to our state law and local ordinance, dikes must be one hundred, plus ten per cent of tank contents. Our law also states that no weeds or combustibles are to be within the dike area. This picture was mailed to the home office of this major oil company and, within ten days, compliance was received in the grounding of the suction pipe lines to the tank cars, and the railroad tracks, as may be noticed in the picture.
Salvage work plays an important part in the work of the Rockford Fire Department, and a sample is shown in Fig. 10. Pictures like this help to educate the public in the services offered by our department, and are used to train the probationary firemen in the value of salvage work.
This fire started in the office of a dentist, that was located directly above the drug store; it was caused by a faulty gas burner. The second floor was totally involved when the Department arrived at the scene. A total of about 65 covers were used at this fire to cover merchandise. Due to our salvage operations, less than $5.00 worth of stock was damaged.
A deodorant known as Air-Kern was sprayed throughout this drug store, and every trace of smoke was gone when the drug store was reopened at noon the same day, even though the fire started at approximately 5:00 A.M. The owner was so impressed by this salvage work, that he ordered a complete “picture story” of the fire and salvage work, made a generous donation to the Fire Department’s Athletic Fund, and placed a large advertisement in the paper complimenting the department for its unusual work.
Some fires are caused by the forces of nature, some are incendiary, some are caused by faulty wiring, hut the greatest majority are caused by carelessness, such as shown in Fig. 11. when a workman left out some bricks in the construction of this fireplace chimney, which was eventually plastered over by another careless workman. When the owner of this newly constructed house built a fire in his fireplace, the fire ignited the studding in the wall. The fire smouldered all night, and was noticed at about 6:00 A.M., by a passing milkman, who awakened the owner and his family. The entire wall had to he opened in order to extinguish this fire. This picture was published in the paper as an example to new-home builders to exercise closer supervision over the construction of their homes.
Fig. 12 shows another type of violation that is a frequent source of fires. This hazard was observed in the rear of a business section. Tenant in the apartment upstairs had inadvertently set fire to the rubbish in the metal barrel and then gone back inside. Possible chances of ignition are many. Note wooden construction of stairway, fuel oil drum on landing, paper boxes along wall and under stairs, open windows on the car, and close proximity of the car’s gas tank to the flames. Furthermore, barrel does not have a mesh screen to prevent burning particles from blowing around neighborhood. Notice was served on the owner to stop burning in Number One Fire Zone, which is better known as the high value area.
The photographs submitted in this article are just a few of the hundreds of violations that are caught by the camera each year. But as Confucius said, “One picture is worth 10,000 words.”