PROGRESS IN FIRE EQUIPMENT THROUGH MODERN RESEARCH
Design of Present-Day Fire-Fighting Equipment Made Possible by Considerable Development and Research Work by Manufacturers
NORMAN F. KIMBALL
IT is a far cry from our present modern fire-fighting equipment to the days when leather buckets, hand pumps and other crude fire extinguishing devices were considered the ultimate in fire protection. Despite the fact that fire hazards today are probably greater than at any other time in history, we are better equipped than ever before to combat them.
We have modern pumping engines, fitted with the latest mechanical features, capable of throwing hundreds of gallons a minute to great heights and distances. Aerial trucks have been developed which for speed and safety of operation have never been equalled; huge, powerful triple combination machines, “quads,” city service trucks, water towers, rescue and squad cars, all are marshalled against fire on the side of the modern fire-fighter.
Besides these mighty motor fire apparatus units we have chemicals whose effectiveness in fighting fires was undreamed of a comparatively few years ago. Nor has development stopped. Almost every day some new problem arises in the fire protection field. How are these problems met and solved and improvements incorporated in existing devices, or new ones designed which will cope with them? This is the job of the manufacturers of fire-fighting equipment. It is not a task to be held lightly. Every new fire-fighting device which is developed must be reliable. Theories, suppositions, surmises are not enough. A fire-fighting unit, whether it be the largest piece of motor fire apparatus or the smallest hand chemical extinguisher, may be worse than useless unless it is 100 per cent effective for the type of fire protection service for which it was designed.
There is only one sure way of determining these facts and that consists of a series of painstaking tests which duplicate as nearly as possible the conditions with which the unit will be called upon to cope during actual service.
Realizing these facts, the American-LaFrance and Foamite Corporation of Elmira, N. Y., devotes special attention to development and experimental work. This company’s experimental station, together with machine shops equipped to carry on all types of development and research work, occupies a large plot of ground on the outskirts of Elmira. It is here that, daily, the company’s chief engineer, representatives of the sales department and others, gather with the experimental station’s staff of development experts to put their theories to actual test.
Thousands of tests are made here in the course of a year. They are divided into two classifications, namely, one involving chemical and the other motor fire apparatus equipment. Every facility is provided for the proper conducting of tests. In the chemical section of the experimental station, more than a dozen specially constructed buildings and other structures have been provided. For example, one structure is constructed to represent the engine room and bilges of a pleasure yacht. In this structure exhaustive tests are conducted with carbon dioxide extinguishing systems.
Another structure is made of iron to represent the hatchway and quarter section of an oil tank on a tanker. This, too, is equipped with a carbon dioxide system, and tests to determine the right type and position of discharge nozzles are frequently conducted.
Other experimental houses found at the station include a paint storage house, dip tank houses and various other buildings in which all chemical fire-fighting devices manufactured by the company are tested.
In addition to these various structures, the experimental lot has a large pit in which tests are conducted on fires involving gasoline, oil. tar and similar inflammables, and a miniature oil tank, 25 feet in diameter.
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Progress in Fire Equipment
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The main building at the experimental station is a large structure 60 x 120 feet. It is divided into two sections. One contains the experimental shop in which development work is carried out in the chemical division, while the other section is devoted to testing and development work with motor fire apparatus. Both sections contain the most modern equipment available.
In the motor fire apparatus section, a dynamometer is provided for testing motors. With this equipment, the innermost secrets of a gasoline motor are laid bare. It is possible to accurately gauge revolutions per minute, horsepower, torque, gasoline and oil consumption, wear of parts, friction power loss and a score of other facts of great worth to the experimental engineers. All new engines are subjected to this exacting test and the slightest variations from the high standards set mean rejection. Then, engineers and research men tear the machine down and painstakingly inspect each part with the aid of delicate instruments.
Fire pumps are also given long and comprehensive tests. An important part of these tests include actual pumping demonstrations. To make this possible a large pumping tank 75 x 25 feet with a capacity of 75,000 gallons of water, is an important feature of the experimental station. By the use of this tank, exhaustive tests may be made with various hose layouts and, by means of a specially designed platform on which pumping units may be run, accurate draft tests may be conducted.
Each year among the many visitors are included fire chiefs, city officials, industrial safety engineers and business men. Invariably, the tests which they witness are conducted on actual fires of the type in which they are most interested.