PROGRESS IN FIRE EXTINGUISHMENT.
At the time when, within a few years, steam power was brought into play in the operation of Fire Engines it could hardly have been anticipated that farther improvement was possible, or desirable, beyond the perfection of the enginery thus added to the list of its conquests by this motive-agency of our material civilization. And, indeed, in contrast with the Hand Engines of other days the Steam Fire Engine might seem to mark the final step of progress in this direction. When, in addition to this, we consider the system of municipal fire organization, with its prompt and facile working method, seconded by the instant omnipresence of the electric signal, it should almost seem that the mind not stubbornly bent on wondering at nothing and content with nothing, must look in some other direction for needed and practicable results of inventive skill. Assured as has been our progress in the fire enginery, now so nearly perfected, equally certain is it that even greater progress is yet to be made. And if, in the nature of the case, such progress cannot consist in the improvement of present methods, then it must be radical. In all the steps leading to the present improved system,—from the voluntary use of buckets and hand engines by the bystanders to the compact Fire Departments of to-day, with their complex and powerful engines,—there has been what we are now beginning to discover to be a radical defect in the principle. We mean the assumption that fire must be fought with water. It does not seem, until recently, to have occurred to the scientific mind, casting about to discover and utilize some ’natural force other than steam, powerful enough to draw the railroad train, propel the ship, and throw the water to great height and distances, that there might exist in the mysteries of chemistry,—nay, at our very hand,—some product which, far more effective than water, should at the same time itself be less destructive to property, more adequate in proportion to its weight and value, and therefore more portable and manageable.
And right here we may best draw attention to one of the most inconvenient and injurious results of the use of water. It is an acknowledged fact that of the large losses by fire in the United States and Canada, a very large percentage is due to the destruction of goods by water. Indeed it is generally true, in case of the partial destruction of a building by fire, that the water used in extinguishing the flames causes nearly as much damage as the fire, while almost always the preservation of a building from more than a few hundred dollars damage by fire, is attended with thousands of dollars damage to the stock from flooding. And there is hardly anything which water will not more or less injure,—most goods, irreparably. This drawback, serious as it is, only barely surpasses others inseparable from the use of water. Principal of these,—and we pass them by with a mere men tion,—are, in many cities, the almost impossibility, and in all the inconvenience and expense of assured water supply and adequate distribution the year round ; and the difficulties often insuperable, attending its use in periods of excessive cold. Upon all these points we have frequently dwelt, in articles urging the increase of our water supply, the erection of capacious reservoirs, and the laying of pipes and putting up of fire hydrants in those thickly-peopled ares beyond fire limits in every direction where are the houses of the great bulk of our population.
The introduction of an extinguishing gas—carbonic acid gas seeming best adapted to the purpose, both by reason of its superior efficiency and its easy and comparatively inexpensive manufacture,—is, it may now be confidently assumed, to work the revolution which has at length become imperative. Whether this or that system or whether any system among those recently introduced will be practicable and of general vitality remains to he seen ; that some adequate system of using so powerful an extinguisher will be devised and generally introduced, we think a foregone conclusion. The results of its use with portable hand machines have been so signal that encouraging efforts are now making looking to its introduction on a larger scale. At one time it was proposed, not very long ago, to erect large manufactories and reservoirs of the gas, with pipes laid to every part of the city, and, if need be, to every building. The projectors of the scheme devoted themselves assiduously to the work of preparing plans, and their efforts were attended with considerable success; in that many ideas before unknown were evolved. The increase from the manual pressure of five pounds to forty pounds to the square inch was provided for by a simple piece of mechanism attached to the conduit. The facilities of its use, due to its superior density as compared with common air, also filled those engaged in the labor with hope. That some have failed to accomplish the end sought, or have, ^at least, desisted from their efforts, should not dissuade others from working in the same direction. The feasibility of introducing it in this manner and its adequacy once established, all details will follow, as a matter of course, relating to its management, in warehouses, stores and public buildings, by the authorities, and its application by the occupants themselves to an incipient fire in less time than was required to reach an alarm-box and set the bells to ringing up the Fire Department force. This, especially, if the aim were to combine with a thorough municipal system the introduction of portable extinguishers, like those now in use, into public and private buildings. The success that has attended the use of dry carbonic acid gas at New Orleans for the extinguishment of fires on shipboard seems to point to further developments of the value of this plan for fire extinguishment.