Portable Fire Engines.
Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Executive Committee:
Topic No. 9, which I had the honor to suggest to the executive committee of 1891-2, is one that should command the attention of all fire department officers in our chief cities, and to some extent, all of our smaller cities and towns. In all our large cities, without exception, in the early stages of fires, there is great complaint of “lack of water.” Hundreds of times have I, and no doubt many of the chiefs of other cities, heard the remark, “If there had been more water in the beginning the fire would not have spread so.” There is much truth in these remarks, as the oft reiterated statement that the first five minutes at a fire is of more value than five hours later on goes to prove. The constant increase of heavy traffic in all our large cities is a great hindrance to the apparatus of our fire departments. The new systems of cable and trolley cars present a feature that makes the liability to accident much more frequent. Streets in business quarters become blockaded with a mass of trucks, cars, vans, wagons, etc., in the more valuable hearts of any city, and if a fire occurs in a business neighborhood at such a time, a serious loss is sure to result. Again, the large area and increased height of modern buildings have required larger and more powerful streams, and in order to secure such, heavier and more powerful steamers have been brought into service, drawn by three or four horses, which, being more cumbersome and unwieldly than the light apparatus, consume more time in being drawn to the fire, cannot be brought so quickly into action, and consequently consume much of the time that is so valuable in the beginning. In addition to this, from the fact that in order to secure more powerful streams, the apparatus has to have a much greater weight, consequently the liability to break down is very largely increased. Another matter that is often overlooked is as to whether the water service in any neighborhood, is sufficient in quantity or in size of piping to supply a number of these firstclass steamers. If it is not, then it is more than a farce to run such apparatus ; it would be, I should say, almost criminal. In view of these facts it would appear to me that the time has arrived when a very large consideration should be given to Topic No. 9. If the apparatus of a district can be reduced fifty per cent by dispensing with present methods, using only the hose wagon and hose (water towers and extension ladders where needed), but not dispensing with the number of men in any company, thus limiting or reducing the danger of accidents or break-downs to more than one-half, and by introducing another hose wagon with hose, it would seem that a great improvement might be effected in many of our fire depart ments. The question naturally arises, can this be done ? and if so, how can it be done ? and if it can be done, can it be done economically? I am of the opinion that it can be done and done economically. I am led to this opinion from the tact that it is already done in many of the smaller cities and also in some cities of considerable size. Since my retirement from the position of assistant chief of the Brooklyn Fire Department, and my acceptance of the position of general inspector for the National Board of Fire Underwriters, I have visited a large number of cities in the United States, and in some of them I have been very much surprised at the extent of territory covered by a comparatively small force and the very effective duty performed where a direct pressure or stand-pipe was the sole reliance. In Kansas City, Mo., I found that there was but one steamer which was not used at fires, but taken out only as a matter of precaution in case of accident. Chief Hale assured me that there was no trouble in securing all the needed pressure when desired. As a proof of this statement we repaired to one of the highest grades in the city and two streams were thrown from different hydrant a distance of about 150 feet; the opening of another hydrant lower down on the same main did not decrease the size or distance of the streams to any noticeable extent. In the city of Omaha, Neb., the same style of water service was in use, and the police and fire commissioners of that city very kindly gave me a test of their water system, which was fully equal to that of Kansas City. In Rochester, N. Y„ a direct acting system, on the Holly plan, has been in use for many years. In this case the pump house is situated near the centre of the city, on the Genesee river, and in case of fire extra pressure is at once applied. From the fact that the water in that river is not now used for domestic use, but only for manufacturing and power purposes, a very high pressure can be applied. Chief Bemish speaks in the highest manner of this system and would like to have it extended. At Worcester, Mass., I was taken to the top of the highest building in that city by Supt. Williamson of the Salvage Corps, and from a stand-pipe on that building a stream was thrown over seventy-five feet higher than the roof of the building. This was from a reservoir situated on a high point some distance from the city, and the supply was almost unlimited. Within a few years it has become necessary, in most of the large cities, especially in the crowded business districts, in consequence of larger areas and great heights of buildings used for mercantile purposes, to use more powerful and consequently heavier streams, and in many cases to use two or more of them to secure a single heavy stream; and also by the use of portable water towers, which are also necessarily heavy and cumbersome, convey such streams to the desired height. These inspections have led me to consider that we may not possibly be traveling in the proper direction. I may safely state it as a fact that the fire service of to-day, with all its boasted accomplishments, with allot its activity of men and horses, and so far as human agency is concerned, none can be better, with all the numerous appliances for giving alarms and securing prompt action, is as much behind what is actually required for fire service as the hand engine was when steam was brought into service to work the apparatus and horses to draw it. This is proved to be a fact by the great fire loss which goes on year after year, and which is never reduced, but which increases annually, last year it being the enormous sum of $140,000,000. No fault can be found with the men who handle the apparatus, for I know of my own personal knowledge that the men often take the most desperate chances to get their apparatus in position to perform good duty, and are often censured by their superior officers for taking such chances, when the fact is, or was, that the men were led to take such chances from excessive zeal in the performance of their duty as firemen. The fact is that there are so many different tools and apparatus, all of which must work harmoniously together, and the absence of any single one of which necessarily interferes with the perfect working of the whole, and renders the efforts of those that have arrived almost useless.
* A supplementary paper prepared by ex-Assistant Chief John V, Smith of the Brooklyn tN. Y.) Fire Department, on topic No, SI of the chief engineer’s convention, to be submitted to the executive committee for approval and publication in the proceedings of the Louisville convention.
For the sake of illustration I will say : suppose a fire to break out in the business section of a large city in the middle of the day, when crowded streets are the rule ; the fire occurs in a six-story building on the fourth floor. We will suppose it to be a factory, 50 x 150 or 200 feet in depth, with no dividing walls or partitions ; the alarm is promptly given ; there are, we will say, five steamers, two trucks and a water-tower answering to the alarm ; if the streets were clear the apparatus would be prompt to arrive and in all cities the companies that answer to a first, second or third call are so arranged that they approach the vicinity of a fire from all sides, so that no point should be left unguarded ; now if the nearest steamer, approaching from the right side on the first call should break down or be interfered with by collision or otherwise, so as to interfere with its usefulness, the hose and wagon of that company would be of no account, as it would be useless for want of “pressure, until the arrival of another steamer ; now suppose the hose wagon of the company approaching from the left side should break down at such a distance from the fire that the hose could not be conveyed to the fire by hand, the second company would also be rendered useless until the arrival of another company ; again, suppose all the steamers had arrived and got promptly to work and the water-tower should break down or should not arrive, the fire being on the fourth floor would have two floors above in which to spread, and although the fire would be attacked from the inside and possibly from roofs of adjoining buildings, still from the absence of the apparatus that would carry the water above the fire, the work of the firemen would be very much retarded. It will thus be seen that following in the present line of present methods, we have about reached the limit in size and capacity and are being placed at a great disadvantage at the most important period, that is, the first five minutes after a fire breaks out. Now is not the remedy the establishing of large stationary district engines, covering a district which could be regulated according to the territory to be covered, to be used for fire purposes only.
By the establishing of such district engines and the laying of suitable mains a very high pressure could be maintained. The liability to accident would be reduced one-half, and when the firemen arrived at a fire powerful streams of water, if necessary, would be at their immediate command. There is no doubt that such a system is possible and the only question to be solved is that of expense. Is it more economical to go on in the present slipshod and makeshift fashion than it would he to make a radical change, such as was made when the hand engine was abolished and steam substituted ? I maintain that the economy is in establishing the more effective system, as money expended in that direction is well expended.
So far as the use of stationary district engines is concerned, there is no doubt of their usefulness; the system has been tried and has proved effective, failure only occurring where the system has been overtaxed or where there is a combination for domestic as well as fire purposes. In our more important cities the time has come when the fire service should be separate and independent from all other services, except possibly that of supplying water to automatic sprinklers, for that is practically a part of the fire service, and would be probably a source of some considerable revenue. Some years since Commissioner Purroy of the New York Fire Department conceived the idea of utilizing the fire boat of that city at fires remote from the river by using a large portable tank, which was to be conveyed to the immediate vicinity of any large fire, more particularly in the dfy goods district, and by the use of two or more lines of three and a half or four-inch hose, water could be pumped from the river into the tank, and a supply obtained sufficient to supply four or more engines; it was not expected to maintain pressure, as friction on the hose would necessarily prevent that. Fortunately there has been no fire since that time which has required the use of this tank; but a practical test was had, and it was clearly demonstrated that useful streams could be had from the fire boat at a distance of over half a mile, and in case of emergency or failure of water supply, the boat and tank could be made available. This was the first practical use of a fire boat for inland purposes, and was the starting point which established a path for others to follow. Since that time Cleveland, Ohio, has established a system of iron mains running from the river inland, with which the boat connects at the lake front, by which they have been enabled to secure very powerful streams of water at a distance of 2300 feet from the boat. But in these cases they do not meet the required want; they are necessarily slow, the boats having to steam to the required point, and are liable to be interrupted the same as engines on land are by travel, by fogs, ice, crowded docks, strong tides and passing craft, and the delay is fatal; the fire has lost no time, the five, ten, fifteen or more minutes have passed, and the flames have got beyond control in the first building and perhaps others, and very serious loss results. It is to prevent the fire from assuming these serious proportions and to prevent the annual enormous loss that make stationary engines and a proper pressure a necessity. The time has gone by when the matter of expense should stand in the way of a public improvement. The best is the cheapest, and no false economy should be allowed to interfere. New York, Chicago. Philadelphia, Brooklyn and many other of our large cities present no difficult problem against the introduction of large stationary engines. If it is possible to introduce pumping facilities in buildings of large area and great height for fire service, how much better it would be to have those facilities on a large scale and remote from any possibility of danger, such as there would be wilh the building on fire. As to the matter of expense, a proper system could be designed, and the more important parts of a city could be covered the first or second year and the plant extended from time to time, so that the expense would be extended over a number of years. The only drawback would be the possibility of a break down of the stationary pump; this could be guarded against by having each district connected with another by valves, so that in case of accident one district could assist the other. With a system of this character, our firemen would have more confidence, knowing that as soon as a connection was made to the plug or hydrant that they would have a powerful stream of water, which they do not have at present, there being so many delays from trivial causes.