Pier Sheds Make Hot Fires
Large Open Areas, Both Within Sheds and Beneath Piers, Permit Rapid Spread of Fire—Suggested Method of Handling
PIER fires are particularly troublesome to the fire department. The great quantities of combustible materials, ranging all the way from jute to jujubes, the inaccessibility of the average pier, together wtih the open space between the water and the pier floor all add to the troubles of the department.
Most pier sheds are either of cheap metal or frame construction, although there is a tendency at the present time to build such structures of brick and concrete. However, in view of the fact that the first mentioned types of construction represent the biggest task for the department, they will be considered in this article. As indicated above, no particular class of contents can be described due to the fact that any material which can be shipped by boat may be found in pier sheds.
Where fire occurs at night, and the shed is all closed in with metal doors, the department is faced with a very troublesome situation. Where it is necessary to ventilate the structure, a lot of effort and time will be required.
In the meantime, due to the large open space above stock stored in the pier shed, the fire will be increasing in intensity and unless very prompt action is taken and effective work done, all material within the shed may be expected to become involved.
To add to the troubles of the department, piers are frequently supported by wooden piling, which becomes coated with oil and grease from the surface of the water. Once fire penetrates through the pier flooring, it is going to involve these piles and will travel with extreme rapidity over the entire area.
The life hazard at a pier fire is negligible except where explosive materials are encountered, or where chemicals are found which throw off poisonous fumes. Due to present shipping regulations, these hazards are minimized.
The fire may originate at any time, and in any of a variety of manners. Defective electrical wiring is responsible for quite a number of pier fires, particularly where flexible cords are permitted, or where electric trucks are employed. Other fires are caused by ignition of materials which have been spilled on a floor and which have ignited by friction caused by moving packing cases or other wares over them. Spontaneous ignition is occasionally responsible for fires, as is smoking.
The most disastrous pier fires usually start at night, and gain considerable headway before detection. In such case, the first officer arriving at the scene has a great responsibility to shoulder. Upon him rests the summoning of the necessary apparatus and the initiation of the plan of combatting the fire.
This much may be said of handling pier fires: The large open areas, the large stocks of combustible materials and the necessity of conducting most operations from the land end of the pier shed makes absolutely necessary the use of large streams. Such streams are effective not only in protecting the materials stored within the shed, but in saving the shed itself, particularly if it is of frame construction. To produce large streams additional apparatus will be required.
If fire boats are available, they are usually assigned to cover alarms along the water front, and may be expected to be promptly on the scene.
The first engine company arriving usually stretches in two lines to an 1 1/2-inch nozzle with holder, or if 3-inch hose is used, and the hydrant is within close range, a single line with 1 1/2-inch nozzle.
Second due company usually stretches two lines to a large size nozzle, preferably 1 1/2-inch, and these two first streams accomplish a great deal in holding the fire, saving the structure, and wetting down some of the burning materials.
Additional lines, as they arrive, may be worked up along either side of the pier, hut due to the fact that the room available fur operating along the edge of the pier on the outside of the shed is limited, streams of not larger than 1 1/4-inch are used.
Truck companies assist by opening up the main entrance along the land side as well as the doors on each side where such is possible. Opening doors both sides of pier sheds provides sufficient ventilation and the department is not thus put to the extreme danger of operating on top of the pier shed in attempting to ventilate.
Where a hard wind is blowing, lines must be put in operation at once to cover exposures where fire is coming through the roof of a shed, or where it is coming through open doorways.
Boats moored alongside the pier must be moved as a precautionary measure. To accomplish this, available tugs can be summoned into action. In some cases, where no tugs are at hand, and a fire boat is not available, the boats are cut away and permitted to drift out into the stream.
Where fire boats are available, and are quickly on the scene, they can be used for moving exposed ships. Subsequently, they can he put into play for discharging heavy streams on the fire, as well as covering exposures.
After the main body of the fire has been killed it may be found that the fire is burning beneath the pier flooring. In this case, the department has a real task on its hands. Some fire departments have put in operation small motor boats with miniature pumps which can be moored alongside the pier, and which can discharge small streams on the burning under-structure of the pier.
Where such boats are not available, it may be necessary to put cellar pipes (of the sub-cellar type) into operation through holes cut in the pier flooring. Another effective way of reaching the fire beneath piers is to remove one or two planks of the flooring and lash a nozzle to a short ladder, inserting the ladder through the pier flooring and minipulating the direction of the stream by shifting the hose from side to side. Still another method is to place ladder alongside of pier down which men may climb with line equipped with small nozzle, and kill the fire burning beneath the flooring.
After the fire has apparently been brought under control, great care should be exercised in overhauling thoroughly all materials stored in the shed. In many cases baled fibrous materials may be encountered, and fire may be burning within the bales, while showing no evidence on the outside. Overhauling includes opening up such bales to make sure that all fire has been extinguished.
When operating at pier fires, where large quantities
of lime, calcium carbide, and similar materials which generate heat or discharge inflammable or poisonous gases upon lieing wetted, are encountered, streams should be kept away from such materials if at all possible.
On the other hand, if it is necessary to wet them, they should be wetted thoroughly so that any heat generated through the reaction of the water on the lime will be carried away by the excess of water.
To sum up, large streams are essential at all pier fires where large area sheds are involved; ventilation is accomplished by opening doors on both sides of pier shed, as well as on the land side; fire burning beneath piers must be taken care of by lines let down on ladders, oi manipulated from other points of advantage; overhauling must lie thorough.