PREVIOUS CASE HISTORIES have described salvage operations of considerable magnitude, dealing with commercial, industrial and public occupancies.

The following examples are more typical of the type of occupancies which are likely to be encountered by the average municipal fire department, professional or volunteer, and whether salvage work is carried out by separate Underwriters’ salvage forces, fire department salvage squads or by regular fire fighters detailed for special salvage tasks.

Greenwich volunteers do salvage

The Town of Greenwich, Fairfield County, Conn., one of the “bedroom” suburban communities of metropolitan New York, boasts one of the wealthiest areas in the United States. It comprises a number of villages, each of which contains mansions that are assessed into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is not unusual for the contents of a single room in some of these show places to be insured for an amount equal to the cost of a modem ranch-type residence. Thus fire need not necessarily be of serious proportions in such costly estate to cause heavy property damage, particularly where fire fighting and salvage strategy are lacking.

It can be readily seen that such conditions present unusual opportunities for efficient salvage; opportunities which the Town of Greenwich Fire Department has been quick to capitalize, both from the viewpoint of holding fire and attendant water and smoke damages to the minimum as well as from the standpoint of creating favorable public relations between townsfolk and fire department.

Actually, the Town of Greenwich Fire Department, of which Chief Stuart Potter is head and Henry P. Crawford is assistant, comprises seven individual fire departments, each more or less a separate autonomy, but operating under the direction of the paid chiefs and volunteer deputy chiefs. Each is composed of volunteers with a cadre of paid personnel. Town fire headquarters is at Greenwich. The other firehouses are located at Cos Cob, Byram, Old Greenwich, Glenville, Round Hill and Banksville. The latter department, incidentally, is directly on the New York-Connecticut line and is incorporated in both states and serves in both Westchester County, N. Y., and Fairfield County, Conn.

In a report to FIRE ENGINEERING, Chief Potter has this to say; “We in the Greenwich Fire Department have been very salvage-conscious for a number of years. Many groups from this department, particularly members of the fire patrol companies, have attended sessions of the training school of the New York Fire Patrol.

“Salvage has been one of the important topics treated in local fire training schools. The lecturers have been drawn from several sources, but in the interests of standardization, we have consistently followed the practices laid down in the training courses of the New York City Fire Patrol.”

“We have a fire patrol truck in each district, six in all, with one more coming. Each unit is well equipped for both first aid and salvage work. Among the important items carried are: Salvage covers, smoke ejectors and circulators, electric generators, floodlights, portable pumps— both electric and gasoline; roofing paper; augers; ladders; pikepoles; axes; resuscitators and inhalators; self-contained breathing apparatus; filter-type masks; rope and chains; hose bridges; stretchers and blankets. One truck is equipped with a 10-ton winch, protective clothing for the personnel and many miscellaneous items too numerous to mention.”

One replacement truck is on order and another unit is to be replaced shortly, the funds already having been allocated. One organization, that of Round Hill, has a patrol company but is presently not equipped with salvage apparatus.

Chief Potter points out that the salvage operations are performed by separate squads whose sole duty is salvage. Each company has a captain, two lieutenants and averages about 25 men, all volunteers.

An important factor in successful salvage, Chief Potter emphasizes, is the cooperation between fire fighting and salvage units. In combatting fires in the type of costly residences typical of the area, the efficiency of the salvage work, and the damage to property and contents, is determined by the methods employed in attacking the fire—the procedures of forcible entry, ventilation, extinguishment and overhauling. The more efficiently these phases of fire suppression are conducted, the more successful the salvage operations.

Minimum use of water

Therefore, in the extinguishing operations particularly, every effort is made to minimize the application of water, through the use of small lines and fog nozzles wherever and whenever possible.

Chief Potter lists a few of the incidents where effective salvage went hand in hand with advanced technique and as a result, held total fire losses, if not to a minimum in the eyes of the department, at least to a degree satisfactory to the owners and occupants of the premises.

The Greenwich, Conn., Fire Department operates six salvage companies, all with volunteers. The four modern units shown here and two smaller vehicles which are to be replaced are equipped with the necessary salvage tools; the salvage practices of metropolitan Underwriters patrols are followed as closely as possibleSituation facing the Greenwich firemen at the Metz residence, Taconic Road, January 25. Two 2½-inch lines and a 1 1/2-inch line were required to extinguish the fire. Although furniture on the third floor and roof structure required replacement, all furnishings on the second floor were saved. First-floor furnishings were safely removed to the garage shown. Due to the efforts of the salvage squad, water damage was negligible

A SERIOUS FIRE in the home of James R. Sheldon, 10 Field Point Circle, Greenwich, on April 30, 1952, threatened the entire large three-story structure.

Upon arrival of the department, the roof area was so involved that two 2½inch hose lines were required to subdue the blaze. These lines were reduced to 11/2-inch at the earliest possible moment, all overhauling being accomplished by means of small lines, using fog.

The building was valued at $128,000. Damage to the structure was $15,000 and to the contents, $3,000. The latter alone were insured for $100,000.

While fire fighters tackled the roof fire, salvagemen worked inside. Most of the furnishings on the third floor were removed to a safe location before the ceilings were pulled to get at the roof blaze. All furnishings on the first and second floors of the wing involved were properly gathered, stacked and protected by salvage covers. A chute was rigged on the second floor to direct excess water out through a window. Auger holes were then bored in the third floor so that practically all of the water was directed into the chutes and conveyed outside tire building. Only a trifle of water seeped to the second floor and none reached the first level.

These major salvage operations were supplemented by numerous other routines such as removal of costly pictures, drapes, etc., to safe places, careful opening of windows (instead of breaking them out), protection of stairs and other areas vulnerable to water runoff, etc.

This fire brought special commendation from the General Adjustment Bureau Inc., which pointed out that the blaze had gained considerable headway before the department was notified, and only the prompt and efficient action on the part of the department extinguished the blaze with a minimum of further damage.

Training important

Further testimony to the value of trained, well-equipped salvage patrol units is given by Chief Potter in the record of many other fires in dwellings. Lack of space prevents including the details of the salvage work in this chapter. These include a fire on Byram Shore Road, April 1, 1952, which was also a roof blaze and which required two 2½inch and two 1 ½-inch hose lines to subdue it. This building was valued at $90,000 and contents at $25,000. Damage to the structure reached $37,000, and to contents, $10,000; also a blaze in the Metz home (pictured above) and one involving the Homelite plant on Riverdale Avenue which was of sufficient magnitude to open several sprinkler heads. Salvage work of the first order was required to protect the high-valued machinery and other equipment in this plant.

In another instance, a fire completely involved the two upper floors of a threestorv frame mercantile and apartment building housing a tavern on the ground floor. Four 2 1/2-inch lines were needed to extinguish this blaze. However, two hours after the department received the alarm, the tavern was permitted to open for business because of effective salvage work. AT 7:53 P.M. on June 1, 1953, a box alarm called the Cincinnati, Ohio, Fire Department and the Underwriters’ Salvage Corps to the residence of G. L. Nord, 2980 Observatory Avenue.

The initial assignment of three pumpers and ladder truck of the fire department, and Patrol 1 of the Undcwriters’ Corps, was faced with a serious fire which, like those noted in the Town of Greenwich above, were of such intensity and so located with relation to the structure involved, that control and extinguishment necessitated the use of water in such volume as to seriously threaten the entire contents of the two-and-ahalf-story stucco, wood-roofed structure. The cause was attributed to sparks from an incinerator.

Chutes located below openings in ceilings of second floor of Nord residence which carried run-off out windows as shown in accompanying picture

— Underwriters’ Salvage Corps photo

Fire destroyed roof of residence of G. L. Nord, Cincinnati, but efficient salvage protected contents of building against water damage incident to extinguishing fire, and the elements. Unable to cover roof, tarpaulins were laid to form roof over second floor and runoff was chuted out second-story windows, as shown. Note that not a window was broken

—Underwriters’ Salvage Corps photo

Immediately upon arrival, the officer in charge of Salvage Patrol 1 radioed for Company 2. Salvage operations started on the second floor, where working directly under the fire, salvagemen moved furniture to a favorable spot. Rugs were picked up, rolled and with the contents of all cupboards, placed on the furniture which was then covered with tarpaulins. The floors, stairs and hall were also covered, and this same procedure was followed on the first floor.

Water chutes were improvised on the second floor to dispose of water runoff from above to the outside of the building (see photographs).

The operations entailed the use of 37 salvage covers. Most of this work was performed under artificial lighting; a generator and floodlights were in use for four hours.

This was only one phase of the salvage operation—the interior action. Commenting on the incident, Chris Williams, business manager of the Salvage Corps, said, “If we had stopped our efforts at this juncture and considered it a job well done, it would have been wishful thinking on our part. The entire top part of the building was left exposed to the elements and should a heavy rain occur, all our efforts would have been in vain. Therefore, we set about providing further and final protection for the exposed parts of the structure. To do this, we placed 15 roof covers (shown in photograph) above the attic floor, some forming chutes to drain the water to the outside.

A lieutenant was in charge of Salvage Company 1 and a captain directed Company 2, the entire operation being commanded by the assistant chief of the corps.

In this incident, much of the success of the operation came from effective chuting of the water, draining it through predetermined places in the ceilings of the two floors to the outside. The floors of course, were bagged where necessary. It is interesting to note that no windows were broken and only the minimum damage done by the fire fighters of the department, and salvagemen, in the cycle of extinguishment-overhaul-salvage.






Every possible device was used by Milwaukee firemen to remove surplus water from flooded Eagle's Club ballroom, after the fire of March 1955. Here, an improvised container is being rolled on makeshift dolly to window for dumping.Removal of run-off water at Eagle's Club fire posed heavy problem. Although fire department does not maintain salvage corps or squads, flooded ballroom was dewatered in time to prevent serious damage to floors below, including basement bowling alley

—Milwaukee Journal photo


SALVAGE WORK, as it is referred to in Milwaukee, has been a controversial subject for many years, dating back to 1940 when the last of the fire insurance patrols was taken out of service in that city.

Efforts to have the fire department assume all salvage operations was objected to by the former chief of department who ruled that unless the department was given additional personnel, together with apparatus and ample salvage covers, it would not practice salvage as did the former patrols.

In later years, repeated attempts were made through various agencies to have the fire department take over salvage, but Fire Chief Wischer has followed the policy of his predecessor. State statutes are said to support the chief’s contention for placing responsibility for salvage corps operations on the Underwriters and not upon the fire service.

Milwaukee surveys salvage

A survey of the Milwaukee Fire Department was made by an outside agency in 1949, one of the recommendations being that the department undertake salvage patrol work. At the time, the department did not carry salvage covers and no instructions were given men in their use. The report claimed that if the Underwriters made a new rating survey “. . . as many as 50 deficiency points may be assessed against the department for inadequate salvage practices.” It was recommended therefore, that adequate salvage appliances be provided and that standard practice instructions be developed for their use.

The recommendations further attempted to establish the fact that additional manpower for adequate salvage work is not required, to which Chief Wischer took exception. As of 1955, no action has been taken to establish salvage patrols in the Milwaukee Fire Department and the insurance companies have not returned the services of patrols to the city.

Concerning this situation, Chief Wischer says: “Actually, this department practices some salvage services, principally the removal of water from buildings having had a fire. Brooms, and squeegees are carried and efforts are made to reduce damage from all causes as much as possible. The department utilizes reduced streams whenever possible and as soon as practical in all cases.” The chief points to the department’s fire loss record over the years which, he states, “has not suffered since the insurance patrols were discontinued. Contrary to popular opinion in the profession,” he adds, “We do not feel that our loss factor has been materially damaged in spite of having no patrol salvage service.” Reductions by the State Insurance Commissioner since 1950 apparently bear out his contention.

Chief Wischer’s viewpoint

Commenting further upon the department’s relation to salvage work, Chief Wischer says, “Probably the only area in which the department does not function as a salvage patrol, is the matter of placing covers on contents, covering roofs and window openings, spreading sawdust and replacing sprinkler heads. As a matter of record, the only item of any consequence is placing salvage covers, inasmuch as the other items are well handled by private concerns which provide for closing openings as a protection against the weather. Salvage covers very often fail to provide the necessary protection because they cannot be spread until considerable damage has been done. We prefer to remove contents where practical.”

Eagles Club ballroom and bars (upper right in distance behind balcony) where fire originated, after water had been removed from floors. Such large floor areas, particularly of hardwood, are susceptible to water damage. Areas and floors below should be protected as early in the fire as possible

—Milwaukee Journal photo

Chief Wischer makes these further observations: “I feel that the proper sizeup immediately upon arrival at the scene of a fire, helps to reduce losses more than any other method. The Milwaukee Fire Department uses hand pumps wherever possible, thus cutting down water damage. Basically, we attempt to locate the fire from the inside as soon as possible and have equipped the department with an average of two oxygen masks for each three members on duty. As such, we have men try to enter the building using a mask, and thus eliminate the necessity for using water unnecessarily.”

That the Milwaukee Fire Department practices salvage, albeit without any fanfare of salvage squads or patrols—or individuals detailed expressly to salvage operations—is evidenced by the following case history.


Lodge Clubhouse


Eagles Club—Ancient Order of Eagles

2401 W. Wisconsin Ave. Milwaukee, Wis.


March 7, 1955

AT 3:12 A.M. on March 7, 1955, an alarm was received at Milwaukee Fire Alarm Headquarters for a fire in the Eagles Clubhouse at 2401 West Wisconsin Avenue. Five alarms and one special call brought the following response: Fifteen engine companies, 9 ladder companies, one water tower, one rescue squad, one special equipment truck, fire department ambulance, three police department ambulances; chief of department, assistant chief, three deputy chiefs and three battalion chiefs. The fire lasted 9 hours and 45 minutes.

The clubhouse, a three-story stone and concrete structure with wood, concrete and terrazzo floors and concrete slabs for roof covering, measured 224 by 142 by 85 feet. It had a gymnasium, meeting halls, swimming pool, bowling alleys, dining rooms, bar and offices.

Due to the intense heat and heavy smoke in the upper portion of the building used as a ballroom and five bars, and lack of adequate ventilation facilities, it was necessary to use a considerable amount of water.

Because of the particular construction of the dance floor, which was depressed approximately 8 inches, two steps below the balance of the floor, the water had no place to go except to the hardwood dance floor. Some filtered through and dripped to the lower floors. Therefore, salvage presented a separate and serious problem after the fire was under control. The ballroom is oval in shape, covering approximately 14,500 square feet, and it is estimated that there were 81,000 gallons of water on this floor.

Salvage operations principally involved the removal of the water from the ballroom floor, without allowing any to drip to the lower floors, particularly onto the bowling alleys in the basement.

Delay could have been costly

During the fire the fire department was informed that a National Eagles Club Bowling Tournament was scheduled for April and any appreciable amount of water could conceivably ruin the alleys and play havoc with the tournament plans.

As soon as practicable, salvage operations were started by placing portable vacuum pumps in operation, removing water from the ballroom floor and discharging it through 2 ⅛-inch hose lines from the upper floor windows. With several inches of water remaining, several banquet-type table tops were placed over the two-step rise to form a ramp. Then by using several of these table tops as an improvised squeegee, firemen formed a brigade to push the water to the higher floor level, thence down a rear stairway.

Several openings were made in the concrete ceiling below to drain accumulated water between the dance floor and ceiling, using large containers which when loaded were placed on four-wheel skids to facilitate taking them to a nearby window for dumping.

Sand was used to dike openings leading into other parts of the building, enabling members of the department to push water through the veranda floorlevel window.

Salvage operations, consisting chiefly of water removal, were highly successful. The lower floors suffered very little water damage, and the fire itself was confined to the ballroom. The bowling tournament was held as scheduled.