Protection Service for Industrial Plants
Watchman Checking System Safeguards Factory from Fire and Accident—Failures of Watchman Quickly Detected and Remedied — Supervisory System Safeguards Automatic Sprinklers
ANY protective service that relies entirely upon the human element is far from perfect. No matter how reliable and trustworthy a corps of night watchmen may be, they are far from infallible, as those responsible for protection of large industrial plants know only too well and to their sorrow. Besides the actual lapse or failure of the individual there is always the danger of accident which may render the watchman over a certain building of a plant unconscious at a most critical period that may mean the destruction of the plant by fire. Systems, therefore, which supervise and keep constantly in touch with night watchmen so that any lapse on their part or any accident that may render their services temporarily inoperative is instantly known through a checking plan and remedied at once, are of inestimable value in rendering the watchman service as nearly 100 per cent efficient as it is possible for it to be. Such a system has been described by Mr. Sofge in a paper read before the recent Tennessee Fire Congress. Excerpts from Mr. Sofge’s paper follow:
It may be interesting for you to know that the Tennessee District delegraph Company, also known as the American District Telegraph company, or A. I). T. Company, operates all kinds of electrical protective Services in about 150 cities throughout the United States The services to which we devote the larger part of our time are the night watchman supervisory service by which we supervise the watchman; sprinkler supervisory service by which we supervise automatic sprinkler systems; manual fire alarm service by which we furnish a private fire alarm service for manufacturing plants, mercantile houses and other business where the need of the service is felt, and automatic fire alarm service which is a system where delicately adjusted thermostats in the shape of thin brass discs are set, between contact points and which, due to the delicate adjustment, are very susceptible to increases in the temperature of a room or building. When the temperature reaches a certain point it automatically causes an alarm of fire to be sounded in our central station which is instantly transmitted to the fire department.
I will add here that all of these protective services are installed and operated in accordance with the rules of the National Board of Fire Underwriters, and the Tennessee Inspection Bureau. In Tennessee, we furnish the Tennessee Inspection Bureau daily reports of any fires, abnormal sprinkler conditions and we also send to the bureau a report showing, in detail, every instance where watchmen reporting and supervised by our system fail to make their rounds properly. These reports are carefully reviewed by the bureau and filed. Where a serious condition is brought out in our report the bureau is intelligently advised and many times prompt action has averted a serious abnormal condition and the fire protection has been properly safeguarded.
Men Thoroughly Drilled Every Day
In the handling of fire alarms through our central stations we have for years felt the need of constantly drilling our men that a mistake would be a disaster. To reduce the chances of a mistake to a minimum, we drill our men thoroughly every day in the handling of fire alarms. Fire drills are conducted every day and our operators are carefully trained in this very important work. Our night watchman supervisory and manual fire alarm system is the development of other watchman checking systems similar to portable or stationary watchmen’s clocks. Many years ago our company operated in the principal cities throughout the country a messenger service. It occurred to one of our managers that the messenger call boxes might be easily adapted to other uses. The method of having night watchmen report to our central offices from boxes of the messenger type installed throughout plants, at once attracted manufacturers’ attention and the development of our present watchman supervisory and manual fire alarm box followed. The new method of checking watchmen on their round likewise appealed to the underwriters. Our watchman supervisory and manual fire alarm system consists of combination signalling boxes which are used by the watchman in reporting from various parts of factories and other business plants. These boxes likewise are fire alarm boxes. The fire alarm is sent in by breaking the glass in the door of the box and pulling the fire hook down as far as it will go and releasing it, as shown in the illustration.
Watchman Checking System Used
The great value of our watchman supervisory and fire alarm system may be more fully realized when I say that a watchman operating under our system and reporting to our central station is followed and checked when making his rounds in much the same way that a train dispatcher runs trains on a railroad division. If the watchman falls by the way or for other reasons becomes negligent, a roundsman. who is also a special policeman, on motorcycle or in an auto, is immediately sent to investigate the cause of the watchman’s failure. Now, if the watchman is making his rounds properly, it can readily be seen that any signs of fire would be quickly detected and with the use of the combination boxes which are scattered throughout, word sent through our central office to the fire department.
We know that our boxes are always ready for service, because they are tested approximately twelve times each night. The same mechanism that transmits the watchman’s signal also transmits the fire alarm, the distinction being that the fire alarm is a longer signal and is identified by the letter “F” which to us means fire, and is sent in by breaking the glass and pulling the fire hook all the way down, while the only operation necessary to send in the watchman’s signal, is the insertion of a small key which is turned a fraction of an inch to the right and taken out.
Open Circuits No Bar to Receiving Signals
Our company is the owner and sole user of a patented system whereby we can and do receive signals over open or grounded circuits. Regardless of any open, ground or other circuit trouble which is apt to develop at any time, day or night, our offices by an adjustment of switches and relays are able, without interruption, to receive all signals. We believe this added safeguard to our circuits is one of the most essential as well as desirable features of a fire alarm system.
Our friend, Chief Fitzmorris of Memphis, was in our central station here in Nashville the other night. While the chief was in our office two of our circuits were open. In spite of this, we were receiving 85 signals per hour on these circuits from about 12 watchmen in various factories without a single interruption. All boxes were registering the same as if the circuit were O. K. Occasionally a fire alarm is received over our system over an open circuit. If our circuits were not especially equipped against circuit interruptions, it can be readily seen that the consequences would be serious if an alarm were turned in over an open circuit. We would not get it and more than likely the plant would be destroyed.
Failures of Watchman Detected
Before leaving the subject of night watchman supervisory and fire alarm service, it will be interesting for you to know that in the course of a year our roundsmen in investigating the delinquencies of night watchmen will find conditions ranging from a watchman who is busy with boilers or doing other work, to watchmen who are actually dead. We find watchmen asleep, stricken with heart trouble, paralyzed, and beaten up by thugs and burglars and thus in all sorts of shape and condition. When our men find conditions of this kind, we at once send the watchman to His home or to a hospital and our man takes charge of the plant.
An outstanding case occurred in Atlanta not very long ago, during cold weather. A watchman at one of our plants missed his midnight round. Our roundsman, upon investigation, found the watchman had been striken with paralysis and was lying at the foot of a stairway, his lantern turned over with the oil running over the floor. It was only a question of time when the lantern would have set fire to the building, and the watchman, had our system not been used, would have burned to death with the factory. There are 20,000 users of our watchman supervisory service throughout the United States with a total of more than 100,000 stations in operation. During a year our roundsmen will investigate over 750,000 delinquents. Over this system we receive on an average about 3,000 fires alarms per year.
Automatic Sprinkler Supervisory System
Our automatic sprinkler supervisory system, to which I have already referred briefly, is precisely what the name implies. It supervises and watches the sprinkler system and sends the fire department when there is a fire. We all know what an automatic sprinkler equipment is. We know that the automatic sprinkler system is unquestionably the greatest reducer of fire losses and the greatest fire prevention agency yet devised. But we also know that until the sprinkler supervisory service, as operated by the Tennessee District Telegraph Company, was developed, there was a very serious need of some method by which the sprinkler system, when once the fire had been extinguished, would be cut off to prevent serious water losses which would surely result with an unchecked flow for an indefinite period.
There was also a very serious need felt for some supervision of the sprinkler equipment to safeguard it. To eliminate the possibility of some abnormal condition which might render it useless in the case of fire as this would mean a total loss by fire should the fire get a good headway before being discovered.
These needs resulted in the development of the automatic sprinkler supervisory system. This system not only watches the sprinkler equipment in an electrical way day and night, but should a sprinkler head open, either by fire or accidentally, we receive in our central station, alarms which are transmitted to the fire department. Thus we see, that the supervisory service, gives the alarm indicating a flow of water from the sprinkler system which is instantly sent to the department.
Electrical devices are installed on all gate or cut off valves; with these devices installed, it is an impossibility to close the valves without sounding an alarm in our office. Runners are rushed to the building in question. These runners see that the valves are opened or they learn the cause and report the facts not only to the building management but also to the underwriters.
To impress upon you the extreme importance of the gate valves always being open, I found some figures the other day which showed that during 1919-1920. there were 23 serious fires in the United States where sprinklers were installed but which failed to work because the water was cut off. During the three months ending March 31, 1920, we answered over our entire system 6,028 gate valve signals. I mean by this that on 6,028 occasions, runners left our offices to investigate signals which indicated that valves had been closed.
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We have found, upon investigation, that careless mechanics after working on sprinkler equipments will leave a gate valve closed or some other abnormal condition. With our supervisory system, these conditions are immediately apparent and the building owner is not permitted to rest until his equipment has been completely restored to a normal working condition.
During the quarter ending March 31, 1920, there were recorded 142 automatic fire alarm signals received over our sprinkler supervisory system. Practically without exception, all of these alarms were for small fires where the water was promptly cut off by our roundsmen or others with a very small resultant damage.
Alarms for Frozen Tanks or Pipes
We received 3,185 alarms during the three months ending March 31, 1920, which indicated to us that water in tanks had become low. During the same period, we received 1,785 alarms notifying us that the water in exposed supply tanks was about to freeze, and we in turn warned our subscribers to heat the water in the tanks. The freezing of water in sprinkler tanks not only greatly impairs the fire protection of a building but it is a serious possible liability. When water in pipes or tanks freezes, there is not any immediate danger but when the frozen pipes or tanks thaw you have burst pipes and some of the heaviest water losses have resulted from this cause.
As an auxiliary to our sprinkler supervisory system, we place a manual fire alarm box in all buildings where this service is installed. The principal object of this manual alarm box is to summon the fire department on small fires before the sprinklers have commenced work. Occasionally a small fire will break in a sprinklered risk. The smallness of the fire or other conditions will make the work of the sprinkler system appear slow and the manual fire box is here used to get the fire department started, I have known of several cases under my actual supervision where small fires have been discovered and the alarms sent in over our manual fire box. The department responded quickly and put out the fires before the sprinklers operated. The use of the manual box at these times made it unnecessary for the sprinklers to start work and probably prevented some damage by water.
In the United States, there are today 4,191,420 sprinkler heads under the supervision of our system. This means that over four million small fire hydrants, each one protecting 60 square feet of floor space, which is in many cases piled high with immensely valuable stock, are alert and ready to put out any fire which may start. If a fire should break out these heads will throw water on the fire and at the same time automatically notify the fire departments’ throughout our central stations. Furthermore, the same system that calls the fire department stands behind the small fire hydrant to see that when there is a fire, it is supplied with adequate pressure and sufficient water to perform its work.
Compel Users to Maintain Systems in Order
I could recite to you gentlemen hundreds of cases where we have through the receipt of alarms been able to shut off water flowing in buildings where high values are stored and have prevented, by the promptness of our trained runners, heavy water damages. I could detail thousands of cases where we have, by persistency and with the co-operation of the Underwriters, compelled users of our service to maintain their system in operating condition.
The gentlemen who have addressed the fire congress have all emphasized the carelessness and indifference of the average business man of today to the need of adequate fire prevention action. We could write books on this subject. We receive every day in our various offices, signals which tell us that the pressure in tanks has become low or that some other abnormal condition modifying the fire protection has taken place. I am sorry to say that we are compelled in many cases to even beg our subscribers to look after their sprinklers promptly. We have even had cases where our subscribers have become angry at our persistence and have requested that we quit worrying them, that they have paid their bills and why should we worry. It is needless to say that right here is where we go to the Inspection Bureau, and this results in an inspector calling on the subscriber to demand that the sprinkler equipment be given the attention it must have if it is to act promptly in case of a fire, or a charge will be made in the rate.