Russian Fire Alarms.
The principal thing about the Russian fire organization is the rapidity of its fire alarms. The major portion of the houses being constructed of wood, promptness of the fire department is a vital necessity. They have bethought themselves to build towers from twenty to thirty meters in height, and make observatories of them, from which fires can be seen at any place in the city. When a fire breaks out, the fireman on duty gives an alarm and makes the indicated signals by means of blackballs during the day, and colored lanterns at night. An institution, special to Russia, has singularly added to the efficacy of of these watch towers; it is the institution of porters, or doorniks, who in the service of owners of property and of the police, watch the houses for the owners and the streets for the police.
These Joorniks’ duty is to give the alarm in case of fires, and to facilitate their task, a certain number of house owners, selected carefully, must have a fire alarm connected by telegraph with the nearest fire station. There are of these 324 in St. Petersburg, in fine, the last improvement, the telephone, communicates with each station. As soon as a call is made at any station, the equipment is set in motion, and then forms a curious and picturesque spectacle, especially at night, by the light of the torches. A solitary mounted man precedes the troop at a sufficient distance to clear the way. Then comes the first wagon, carrying the staff and signaled by the colors of the company in service. Upon the front seat two skilled drivers direct a team of four horses, with the most picturesque effect ; these horses are upon the same alignment, one of them upon each side of the wagon tongue, the other two outside of each wheel horse, so harnessed as to be enabled to gallop furiously,” while the inner two trot rapidly. The heads of the “ furious” steeds are kept outside by a special rein, so that the space occupied by this team is considerable. This first wagon is followed by the others which follow at the same very rapid pace.