Putting More Power and Punch Into Modern Fire Fighting

Putting More Power and Punch Into Modern Fire Fighting

American Industry and Business Have Progressed by Substituting Mechanical for Manual Operation. Why Not the Fire Service?

Editor’s Note:—Fire Engineering has long counselled greater consideration of the principles and methods of fire attack as compared with fire defense. That means getting into operation quickest with the most in facilities and equipment.

Today the “most” of personnel may be far too short of the necessary quota to prosecute spirited attack, and to make rescues and so on. This is one reason for the increasing number of additional alarms banged in for more manpower. It is one reason, also, for the mechanization of fire suppression operations, for substituting mechanical energy for manual effort.

It is on this premise that the author submits the accompanying text. Some, particularly among the “old timers”, may not agree with his theories. Others will. And they will have plenty of substantive evidence to support their contentions. But even they may not fully realize the far-reaching possibilties of mechanization, as applied to fire control and extinguishment.

It is the hope of the editors and the author that this message may inspire progressive fire forces to review their own operations and facilities and to consider the possibilties of supplementing manual with mechanical effort.

ONE of the foremost contributing factors that has made this nation great has been its ability to mechanize operations formerly done slowly, laboriously by manual effort.

If there is any field where mechanization should be developed to the greatest degree, it is that of fire suppression. For no other calling is so closely concerned with life and death. In it, split seconds may determine the saving of someone who might otherwise be lost to destructive fire. It is difficult to find any valid excuse why mechanical equipment and methods should not be installed throughout the fire service.

There is another factor to consider, in weighing the merits of such mechanization. That is the effect it has on the fire fighter. If it will save him physical punishment, as well as energy and threat of injury, then he should welcome any such development.

Today, with the serious shortage of men in most initial fire fighting operations, mechanization takes on special significance. In industry, mechanical power has been called on to multiply the effectiveness of manpower. In fire suppression, many fire chiefs have had to call upon mechanization in one form or another, to augment manual operations. The only thing wrong in some of these instances is the fact that their own fire departments had to engage outside mechanical resources for such facilities, frequently with serious delays to the operations.

Energy is a generic term. It takes energy to move a body. We must heat a piece of wood to make it burn, but it gives out heat (energy) as it burns. We use beat energy to start a fire, but once started, the fire in turn gives out heat energy. In order to bring about any change in the condition or state of matter, energy must be used.

This may be old stuff to scientific fire fighters, who know the various kinds of energy: mechanical (which is produced from some kind of machine); heat energy, electrical energy, and chemical energy. We are concerned here primarily with mechanical energy.

Power-operated hack saw opening the trunk of a car.Portable air saw speeds up cutting of plank flooring. The unit shown is one of several air-powered forcible entry tools operated by air compressor in the Cincinnati Fire Department

It takes so much energy to swing an axe, whether the axe is cutting a roof or floor, or breaking out a door. If there are smoke and toxic gases present, we know that the same amount of energy is more difficult to produce. Therefore, we advocate the use of breathing equipment to facilitate the operation. And here the “mechanics” of breathing enter into the picture. We have introduced “machinery” into this phase of fire suppression and rescue with telling effect.

We have also mechanized certain other elements, such as fire detection, fire alarm transmission and the response cf fire apparatus. We have even gone far in the field of mechanical automation (the very latest development of mechanical energy application). This is in the push-button control of fire—if not its complete extinguishment. On an airplane, the pilot pushes a button and the built-in CO2 or chlorobromothane system snuffs out the fire in the motor. In private industry, an electronic eye discovers fire and automatically activates a mechanical extinguishing system, while transmitting an alarm. This is automation at its most effective peak. But this is only a very tiny drop in the bucket. These historic scientific applications should suffice, however, to prove our point that there is room in the fire service for mechanization.

Cutting off the steering column of a car is short work for the power hack saw—a very useful tool for fire department rescue squads.

The Place for Mechanical Power in Fire and Rescue Operations

It is no secret that fire control, extinguishment and overhaul operations call for use of power in some form. So, too, do much rescue and emergency work. Until quite recently, measured in terms of its existence, the fire service has relied more or less upon the “armstrong” method for performing most of these tasks. Fire apparatus has carried a lot of tools and equipment (and still does) which for the most part have depended upon the muscles and skill of their users. A prerequisite of a good fire fighter was considered to be plenty of muscle, it didn’t matter so much what was in the mind. Jests are still bandied around about all that a fire fighter requires is a strong back and a weak mind.

It is generally agreed the four objective fundamentals of fire suppression are (1) Locate the fire; (2) Extinguish it; (3) Overhaul it and prevent re-ignition; and (4) Salvage all that can be saved. There is still another element which is not generally counted as part of fire suppression, but which for the purposes of this study, may be considered. That is demolition (wrecking).

Most fires start small; they grow by feeding upon combustible materials and through failure to discover them in their incipient stage, or through inability to cut off their expansion.

Anything that handicaps fire fighters, once on the scene, to locate the seat of the fire, just so much further delays control and extinguishment. That delay may be attributable to lack of manpower, or mechanical equipment or both.

This being a fact, it is in order to study those work factors which are requisite to these several operations, in the life history of every fire and rescue incident. In brief, what is the labor (effort) required, and where (and how) must it be applied?

San Francisco fire fighters employ pavement breaker to open up basement areas at multiple alarm mercantile fire. In some cases like this, all the water in the world may not be as effective as one power tool plus a good well-charged cellar pipe!Power-driven hack saw makes quick work of cutting metal and wood flooring.

Power — For What?

Before we take up these several basic operations it might be in order, just for the record, to consider the kind of power, manual or mechanical, that is required, in one form or another, during the life history of the fire suppression and/or rescue incident. Of course it will depend upon the extent and severity of the individual incident, but the operations that are generally performed, usually with tools of one kind or another, include—

  1. Cutting . . . chopping . . . sawing
  2. Breaking . . . loosening
  3. Boring . . . twisting . . . turning . . . ripping
  4. Lifting . . . prying . . . pulling . . . separating

To these tasks may be added still other efforts (operations) which the fire fighter must undertake, but which do not directly involve mechanical power. Aside from being transported to the scene of the emergency by means of powered vehicles, the fireman must provide his own locomotion.

Power can help him in climbing, as shown by his use of mechanically powered ladders, slings and winches. This same power helps him in carrying, lugging and dragging, viz.: the use of a winch hoist or other device for raising hose-lines, ladders and other equipment.

Members of New York Fire Department Rescue Co. I demonstrate proper use of O'Brien electric cutter, using skid for flooring.

Photo by Hellriegel and Heffernan

Hoseman William Rose of Philadelphia's Rescue Squad No. 1 practices buzzing through a door with a 3.5 horsepower chain saw. The chain saw is standard equipment along with respirators, oxygen tanks and other emergency rescue equipment.

Thus it can be seen that there are, and no doubt always will be, some physical actions which the fire fighter must perform and which lend themselves to little, or no, mechanization. It is in the category (a) to (d) above, that we must look for possible applications of power to perform what have been manual actions.

Power in Forcible Entry

Used in its broadest sense, no single rescue and fire suppression operation calls for so much physical effort, and therefore offers so great opportunity for substitution of mechanical means and methods, as forcible entry.

Forcible entry may involve several or all of the following actions:

  1. Opening doors of all types; windows (including barred openings): shutters, etc.
Pneumatic power unit in service in the New Haven, Conn., Fire Department.
  1. Opening roofs, walls, floors, ceilings, partitions, etc.
  2. Opening sidewalks, pavement (including gratings and deadlights), etc.
  3. Opening chimneys, ducts, pipes, etc.
  4. Opening elevators and shafts of all kinds; dumbwaiters, etc.
  5. Opening miscellaneous enclosures, such as vaults, sewers, wells, refrigerators, etc.

Almost without exception these operations can be performed by mechanically powered devices of one kind or another. At least, except where the task is itself so simple as to indicate that the use of the mechanical means will entail more labor than it will eliminate, the fire department should be prepared to enlist power for the job.

In normal situations, a hand tool such as axe, claw or hook, will suffice to open orthodox doors, windows, fanlights, etc. But when they are of metal, or plastic (it may be necessary to cut a frame, etc.) or there are screens or bars involved, it is a foregone conclusion that power tools are indicated.

The use of metal storm windows, screens and jalousies is today almost universal in modern buildings. All of which increase the problem of forcible entry, especially if we desire to accomplish maximum results with minimum damage to the structure.

Much the same can be said of roofs, floors, walls, ceilings, etc. Where formerly wood and plaster were the common structural materials for most occupancies, today wood is giving place in many instances to more durable, more costly and less workable material, from the fire fighter’s viewpoint. Metal lath is being more widely used for some types of construction and is far more difficult to work with than wood lath and plaster. Some plastic construction is almost as tough, and as hard to manipulate, as metal and concrete. Therefore it is safe to say the progress being made in building design and construction does not easily lend itself to forcible entry and overhauling. Just the opposite.

If any final evidence were needed to justify this statement, it can be found in the trend toward windowless buildings, from mercantile and industrial on one hand to the all-glass or glass-andmetal commercial buildings on the other, which present new phases and new problems in opening up for the fire fighter. This situation bids fair to worsen as the days pass.

Another phase of forcible entry which fairly shouts for power driven equipment is its need in transportation emergencies, both vehicular and airplane. Motor trucks with their all-metal bodies and trailers, as big as freight cars, traveling the highways and byways, present new rescue and fire control situations, of which forcible entry plays a big part. The old fire department forcible entry tools may still suffice for ordinary opening-up operations, when rightly employed, but the same operations can be performed more efficiently with simple, light, power tools.

The same thing can be said of airplane crash fire and rescue work. Fortunately here the armed forces have managed to come up with mechanized equipment that will cut the f.usilage or nacelle, or other metal part of a plane, like a hot knife going through melted butter.

A Concrete Example

A great many years ago a bane of the fireman’s life was the iron shutter. It was as much as a fireman’s life was worth to try to remove the unwieldy eyesores with any degree of speed or safety to those working below. Well, the old shutters have gone but so, too, in many cases, have the windows, and instead of these openings, the fire fighter all-too-often must break or cut through brick or masonry to ventilate interiors. And he can’t do that with any degree of facility using the old-fashioned battering ram.

Not only walls present new forcible entry problems but so, too, do roofs, floors and decks. FIRE ENGINEERING has published many reports emphasizing the problems of opening up the modern concrete and composition roofs, floors and decks, for ventilating, or for reaching the fire. It is only necessary to remind our readers of the absurdity of attempting to break through such sturdy barriers with anything but the most efficient pavement breakers, and the like. Such fires as the Cunard Pier in New York City; the Miami Herald building, Miami, Fla.; the Reading Terminal building, in Philadelphia and others, should already have convinced most of our readers of the wisdom of owning and operating their own power facilities for performing such tasks and not having to depend upon public utility or other interests for such equipment. Yet today, strangely enough, only a small percentage of municipal fire departments can boast of their own compressor and jackhammer units.

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And let it be reiterated: it isn’t always the fire emergency that calls for application of such equipment; such powered tools and equipment are priceless in times of building collapse, hurricanes, floods, train wrecks and the like. A further good point about these compressors is that they can be used to power other devices than pavement breakers. It is true that they may not be called into action very frequently but when they are, it is usually for a genuine disaster. Having such equipment immediately available may spell the difference between a serious and a minor catastrophe.

Now that we are considering air powered tools, let us look further into these.

Air Movers

The first successful application of compressed air to fire department tools and equipment was accomplished by the late Edward Lamb, one time Captain in the San Francisco Fire Department and inventor of the Lamb Air Mover. That department installed what is believed to be the first air compressor fire company, with air operated tools and other devices, in 1938.

Captain Lamb showed air-powered emergency tools at the San Francisco Conference of the International Association of Fire Chiefs the year after and this demonstration so interested Fire Chief Barney Houston, of Cincinnati, Ohio, that he determined to add an air unit to his department. This was done, notwithstanding difficulties imposed by the war-time priorities and other handicaps of production.

Finally, a sedan type squad truck was built by the Seagrave Corporation to Chief Houston’s specifications and, after satisfactory acceptance tests, was placed in operation in 1942. The story of this interesting “Airmatic Task Unit” as it came to be called, was told in detail in FIRE ENGINEERING of December, 1942.

The Lamb Air Mover, a venturi-like device that is used to eject smoke and fumes, also was described in the series of articles on Ventilation by the author.

Besides the “Air Mover” the Airmatic Unit carried such air-powered equipment as the following: Portable safetysaw, with three 12-in. blades, capable of cutting to a depth of 4-in.; portable air drill, to drill a 3 3/4-in. hole through a 12-in. concrete or brick wall; and various jack rods and bits. Demolition tools included medium and heavy duty pneumatic breakers and accessories; heavy type core breakers, etc. In addition there was a portable generator, with various flood lights, etc., and a complete assortment of manually operated rescue tools and devices.

This unique unit is still in active service in the Cincinnati Fire Department and reportedly has justified many times over the confidence Captain Lamb and Fire Chief Barney Houston placed in compressed air units for certain fire force operations.

Although it must be admitted that airpowered equipment has broader applications for fire fighting and rescue work than the average fireman is aware of, its use will be somewhat restricted in scope because of the limitations between source of supply—the air motivating power—and the point of application. Further, it is difficult to fashion certain types of manual tools to air power, but which can be made to operate by electricity.

Adaptability Features Electrically Powered Tools

Electrical power for tools and appliances has shown ever-widening application since fractional-horsepower electric motors became available. The advent of the light but powerful portable electric generator greatly furthered these applications, and brought them within range of , fire service requirements. Today some sort of electric high-speed tool has been devised for almost every manual chore imaginable, to quote Maurice H. Reid (“How to Use Portable Power Tools”).

Electrically-driven facilities can draw their life-power from portable generating plants or from the permanent public utility service.

The modern portable electric generator is a marvel of efficiency when it comes to providing power and light for the fire service. It does other things, too, like pumping water, and removing smoke and fumes, but we are concerned in this study with the mechanics of electric power as applied to appurtenances that will do the cutting, drilling, boring, ripping and other operations, previously mentioned as essential to various basic fire suppression and rescue operations.

Without becoming too technical, let us briefly review some of these devices, and their applications.

Portable Power Saws

There are several types of electric, gasoline and air powered saws: the plain electric motor driven saw, which comes in a number of types and prices; chain saws, which are powered by gasoline and electric motors and which likewise come in a variety of types, sizes and horsepowers.

The latest portable electric saw reportedly will cut across a 1 x 10-inch plank in one-half second. While a handsaw workman is picking up his saw, the job is already done by this new work saver.

The size of this type of saw is rated by the diameter of the circular blade that it uses. Since the blades of the saw are quickly interchangeable for cutting all kinds of material and for all kinds of cuts, there are no designations of the machine itself as there are with ordinary hand saws. Electric saws range from the small 4-inch blade up to the heavy-duty 10and 12-inch blades for heavy-duty work. Motors are preferably the universal type (AC-DC) of about 115 volt, to run in the neighborhood of 4500 RPM load speed (this is the speed of the average 8-inch type). All forms of cutting are possible by changing the blades.

A recent and popular newcomer among power tools is the chain saw. Its successful use by foresters and lumoermen led to its adoption by the fire service, where both the electrically and gasoline operated one and two-man varieties are giving excellent accounts of themselves.

Recently the gasoline-powered, oneman chain saw has gained popularity among fire fighters. The Salt Lake City Fire Department, for example, uses a saw weighing 17 pounds, which cuts to a depth of 14 inches. It will make these cuts through solid timber or logs of this diameter in 30 to 60 seconds.

Other chain saws are available in various sizes, up to a portable unit weighing 45 pounds, which will cut to a depth of 36 inches. There are a number of excellent makes of these power saws, and the manufacturers should be consulted as to the uses the fire department may desire to make of them.

Many fire departments have found that these chain saws are taking the operators through flooring, roofing, timbers and so on, much faster than the circular hand saws; that they make cuts in hardwood with ease that normally binded on the circular saws, and they cut any depth up to 14 inches as compared with the limit of 2 to not over 4 inches possible with circular saws.

The one-man, lightweight electric chain saw reportedly can cut any timber from a sapling to a tree 28 inches in diameter, and can be used in places where (power being available) a heavier tool would be unmanageable.

The chipper chain saw runs at 1400 feet-per-minute. The 10-ampere motor provides power for the toughest jobs, it is said. A No. 14 gage wire is recommended up to 100 feet; No. 12 up to 150 feet, and No. 10 up to 250 feet. In cases where the saw is needed beyond the reach of an electric outlet, a 1500watt generator is available (as it is, of course, for most of the light electric tools now on the market).

The electric chain saw is light enough and so well balanced that it can be used in any position. It weighs only 18 pounds.

Rotary Cutter and Borer

To help locate inaccessible fires and reach them with hose streams, as well as to facilitate water removal and salvage operations, the fire service now has available a rotary cutting tool of new, revolutionary design. It was originally designed for cutting holes in heavy construction, including pier decks, and was adapted by the fire service to meet its own needs.

The O’Brien Rotary Cutter, as it is known, is an electrically powered tool, weighing about 47 pounds. It uses a Stanley Universal Drill #805 and has a 1 1/3 H.P. standard AC-DC-Universal electric motor, drawing 12.5 amperes, which operates the tool at about 200 R.P.M. without load, or 125 R.P.M. with load, in the same manner as the conventional electric drill, with certain modifications.

The cutter consists of a shank having a 6 1/2-inch diameter disk face plate. This is fitted with two high carbon, steel alloy cutting blades having approximately 2 inches of cutting surface. A radius cutter bit extends about 3/16inch. Directly below the face plate is attached a l 3/4-inch “pilot” drill about 11 inches long, made of carbon steel. This provides an axis about which the face plate revolves. To eliminate cuttings from choking the cutting members or drill, a radius cutter bit extends about 3/16-inch below and beyond the overall diameter.

When the desired spot has been found at which the opening is to be made, the cutter is operated. Where use of a distributor is desired, a single 6 1/2-inch hole is sufficient. If cellar pipes are desired, two overlapping holes are necessary. Several overlapping openings can be cut to permit use of large pipes or distributors. Power is supplied by portable generator or by tapping into street light ooles, or other permanent sources of electricity.

There are a number of smaller, portable electric drills which are adaptable for fast, light cutting such as might be required in aircrash and auto wrecks. In addition to wood drills, there are presently being used concrete drills, nibblers, and various hydraulic power tools including rams and pumps. They make possible cutting through concrete and masonry, metal, brick and other materials. They can be carried and assembled at the scene by two men, and it takes but one man to operate these tools, with a minimum of fatigue.

Electric jack hammers operating off of modern portable generators are capable of cutting through heavy concrete, no less than the pneumatic type, and have proved a fast, easy method of breaching brick walls, concrete floors, releasing barred windows, and so forth.

Then, there are the portable metal cutting tools which are being used to penetrate corrugated iron, to cut into metal transports and aircraft, to remove hinges and hasps from doors, and in many other applications.

It should be mentioned that while electrical tools powered by generators are in operation, effective lighting of the fire ground is also possible. Many departments operate 2,500-watt generators which will operate two 500-watt flood lights at the same time the chain saw, or other device of similar power is being used. Also, as was pointed out in the author’s series on ventilation, power generators provide an effective means of ejecting smoke, and injecting fresh air.

This is by no means the complete inventory of modern power-activated tools and equipment available to the fire service to mechanize fundamental time-consuming, labor-taking operations. There is no telling what tomorrow will bring forth.

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