Report on the Fire Hazards of Memphis

Report on the Fire Hazards of Memphis

The report of the fire prevention committee of the National Board of Fire Underwriters for the city of Memphis, Penn., of August date, shows it to be a city of about 170,000, city grow ing rapidly; the business section to be built on bluffs along river, and the surface of city rolling, with easy grades. About half of the streets are improved, and much paving is under way. Paved streets in fair to good condition; others in poor condition. Streets generally of fair to good width. Railroad crossings form serious obstructions in outlying sections. Average wind velocity moderate, but high winds frequent and of long duration. Winter temperatures mild. The number of tires, average loss per capita and loss per lire are all high.


Water Supply.—Works owned and operated by the municipality; management capable and fairly efficient. Supply from artesian wells pumped direct to the distribution system in one service. N ielil of wells is sufficient for present requirements ; hut reserve pumping capacity is made quate for serious tires and pumps are housed in buildings either highly combustible or contain ing unnecessary hazards, all poorly protected. Supply mainly dependent upon the integrity of a single large force main; no storage Consumption moderate. Pre-sures fair, sufficiently well maintained for engine supply. Arterial system generally fair, but minor distributers are small and poorly gridironed in many important districts. (iate valve and hydrant spacing wide Many hydrants are too small. Street sprinklers use any convenient hydrant, resulting in their generally poor condition; little attempt at proper hydrant maintenance.

I ire Department. Full paid. Supervision by a multiple-headed commission; will he changed soon to a single commissioner, elected for fouryear term Chief and assistants experienced, hut have little authority over force. Methods’of ap poinlment and promotion bad, but force to he under ivil service after January I. 1910. No age limit for retirement or | rovision for pensions. Companies undermanned. Several districts unprotected; chemical service especially weak. F.ngine service improved by purchase of four mod cm engines, but many old style ones are still in service and two tire too small for city work. Aerial truck of slow raising type; other satisfactory. Several companies till using hose reels. Minor equipment poor. One water tower in service, of slow-raising type. Hose supply of good quality, but no extra shift or drying racks at some companies Fuel supply of fair quality; provision for carrying to lire is insufficient. Horses only fair; several too old for lire department purposes. Houses generally in poor condition; several are unsanitary. Repairs to apparatus well made at department shop, but force too onall I’ersonnel and discipline hardly fair: effects of political control evident in low efficiency of force. No drill school or training in modern tire methods. Response to alarms fair except for lack of ladder and chemical equipment. Running card incomplete. Increasing use made of chemicals and small water streams, but much water damage evident. Department fairly well provided with appliances for throwing large streams, building inspections regularly made, but department has no authority to enforce removal of unnecessary combustibles. Hydrant in spections nominal and of little effect. Records fairly complete and reports satisfuctorv. Recent improvements consist chiefly of four new engines and one outlying engine company installed. Service, as a whole, weak and inefficient: shows effects of political control and poor financial stipp rt.

hire Alarm System.—A small automatic system. Under supervision of fire chief and management of experienced electrician. Headquart ers ill exposed building, containing manv hazards Office apparatus of old style, hut fairlv reliable; firehouse apparatus directly on the box circuits. Nearly all of tlie boxes privately owned and located for protection of individual risks. Most have detached keys with no key signs, have brush breaks and are not grounded. Only three red lights provided to indicate locations and boxes are dingy and inconspicuous. Distribution good in congested district: very poor elsewhere: many districts unprotected. Circuits underground in congested district; overhead elsewhere Wiring generally in good condition, but bare wire used through trees and on poles with high tension wires. Energy obtained from gravity batteries. Department telephone switchboard owned and maintained by a public telephone company; all houses connected on one circuit. Operator always on duty. No box and circuit maps on file; records not properly kept. Tests fairly frequent and effective. Practically all alarms received by telephone. Fire alarm system very inadequate foi a city of this size and unreliable.

Fire Department Auxiliaries.—Salvage corps well managed and efficient; covers only the thisk ly built-up section. Many incendiary fires; investigation and prosecution, effective. Public service corporations render no aid to fire department. Police department co-operates fairly well with lire department. Telephone service much used for alarms of fire, but slow and not entirely reliable. Two extensive watch services; both central offices in exposed ordinary buildings containing hazards; one service much improved and recent installations standard; the other service is far below standard. Sprinkler supervisory service good; limited, hut being extended. Several concerns have sprinkler alarms connected to street fire alarm boxes. Considerable private fire apparatus and a few private brigades; of value only to individual risks. Only slight outside aid available, after several hours.

Summary.—Water supply unreliable, owing to insufficient reserve pumping capacity, dependence on sitigli force main and poor condition of hydrants: inadequate in many localities, because of poor gridironing of the distribution system. Fire department weak and inefficient; shows bad effects of political control and inadequate financial support. Fire alarm system very inadequate for a city of this size.


Building Department.—Building code contains some good features, hut no limitations are placed on areas, no protection is required on floor or window openings and the code is defective on many other vital points. Adequate inner fire limits are specified, but non-combustible roof limits cover only about one-third the area of the city; erection of frame buildings within the fire limits is often permitted by the legislative council. Building department is short-handed for the proper enforcement of the laws. Local conditions of construction unsatisfactory.

Explosives and Inflammables.—Regulations very limited and inadequate to prevent the de velopment of dangerous conditions. Fire department makes inspections of buildings on its own initiative. Much rubbish and the improper handling of gasoline noted.

Electricity.—Complete municipal control, under direction of fire department. All new work must he approved before current may be turned on: national electrical code being enforced in new work. Little done to improve old wiring: much in a hazardous condition. No overhead wiring, i xcept street railway, in the business district: conditions outside that district being improved Electrolysis being watched; reported trouble is slight.

Conflagration Hazard.—High in the congested value district, owing to the prevalence of nonfireproof construction with unprotected floor and window openings, had building-to-building exposures at narrow alleys and courts, many weak party walls, weak lire department, deficiencies in the water distribution system and the presence of several conflagration breeders. The only mitigating features are the general small size of the buildings and fairly good width of some of the streets.

Outside of the congested value district, the hazard is largely local, but serious fires may he expected, as the water distribution system is poorly arranged around most of the important buildings or groups of building and the response of fire department apparatus is slow, due to the slowness of receiving fire alarms. The outlying residential sections are almost entirlye of shingleroofed frame construction and are inadequately protected hv lire apparatus and are practically without fire alarm boxes. A lumber district on the north and one in the southern part of the citv present a serious flying brand haazrd.

Over $ inward the purchase of a new hose wagon for the fire department of West Suflield. Conn., has been raised by the Ladies WideAv.ake Club.

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