Salvage Work the Fire Department Can Do

Salvage Work the Fire Department Can Do

Practical Suggestions as to Work of This Kind by Firemen—Type and Size of Covers—Additional Cost Small

MANY fire departments have taken up the work of salvage in connection with their fire-fighting activities and those who had done this, as a rule have found this practice to work out well. The following article is therefore timely and practical and will he found of help in suggesting ways and means to those chiefs who are contemplating the addition of a salvage corps to their department or who add salvage to the duties of the firemen:

J. H. Howland, Engineer, National Board of Fire Underwriters.

Of the buildings and their contents that in this country are being increasingly destroyed by fire, whatever escapes being burned up is quite likely to be wet down. Which of the two opposing elements, fire or water, does the most damage is, and will probably long continue to be, a debatable question. What has been definitely determined is that a large percentage of the fire loss is in reality attributable to water damage.

Fire Fighting and Salvage Work go Hand in Hand

Some authorities have estimated that not much in excess of 25 per cent of the annual fire losses are directly chargeable to the flames. This may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but the fact remains that fire chiefs, Underwriters and the public generally recognize that the water damage is excessive, far more so than it would be with efficient salvage regulations universally adopted. In other words, aside from the paramount feature of saving life, fire-fighting and salvage work should go hand in hand in constituting the regular duties of each and everv well organized fire department.

Salvage Pays Handsome Returns

It has been clearly demonstrated by a number of our fire chiefs, perhaps more noticeably in some of the Pacific Coast cities, that the spreading of covers and utilization of other effective salvage measures along with the work of extinguishment, pays handsome returns in a large percentage of the fires. Captain Albert Johns on, a veteran in the service of the New York Fire Patrol, has stated that the contents values saved in the “Century” fire in 1888 equaled the cost of running the entire salvage corps for the two succeeding years. What are the present possibilities if such savings were realized 37 years ago when the property values were but a fraction of what they are to-day? The chiefs of the Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles and Fresno fire departments each cite numerous and very striking instances of the benefits derived from salvage operations and which actually reduced losses such as to reflect much credit upon the officers and men.

Some of the conclusions respectively submitted by these Pacific Coast fire chiefs are as follows: “It is a source of considerable amusement to find that those officers who first disapproved the use of salvage covers are now among the most enthusiastic boosters for them.” “Covers have in our opinion demonstrated that they are something which no fire departments should be without.” “I am convinced that it is advisable to have the City fire department operate the salvage companies.” “I think that I can say safely that our salvage operations have been the means of saving several hundreds of thousands of dollars during the past 18 months or 2 years.”

Captain J. J. Conway, veteran head of the Cincinnati Salvage Corps, testifies: “That the criticism frequently made by owners and others that the fire department ‘drowned’ the building, would be almost entirely eliminated if the property under the fire were protected by covers.”

So it is seen that these practical fire fighters fully appreciate that such efforts aid very materially in reducing the average loss per fire and that this saving brings the fire record of the municipality into constantly increasing favor.


Experience has shown that a cover measuring 12 by 18 feet is the most convenient size. There are two general types of covers, each of which, depending upon the local facilities for maintenance and frequency of use, give the most satisfactory service. That known by the trade name of “Shuredry” is a tightly woven treated duck which is not absolutely waterproof but will perhaps best withstand rough usage and lack of care; this type cost about $18 each. The majority of the organized salvage companies are using rubber-covered duck covers weighing from 26 to 36 pounds and costing $25 to $30 a piece; these are absolutely waterproof and give the most efficient service, but like rubber lined hose must be wet occasionally to be kept in first-class condition; they can be bought from a number of recognized manufacturers under what are known as Underwriters’ specifications.

“The timely protection of property from smoke and water damage during a fire and from the elements after a fire, would in the great majority of our communities require little or no increase in the manual force of the departments and comparatively little in the way of additional equipment.”

Additional Cost Small

In the smaller municipalities where it is not practicable to maintain organized salvage companies especially trained and assigned to this service, there should be 2 to 5 covers and some of the more necessary salvage appliances added to the equipment on every piece of fire apparatus. Where the larger cities do not have regular salvage corps response in addition to the regular outlying pieces, special fire department apparatus for the carrying of covers, tar paper brooms, squeegees, scoops, sponges and other minor equipment should be provided.

The timely protection of property from smoke and water damaged during a fire and from the elements after a fire, would in the great majority of our communities require little or no increase in the manual force of the departments and comparatively little in the way of additional equipment. In view of the enormous increase in the cost of maintaining fire-fighting organizations in recent years and the fact that the members devote so large a portion of their time to keeping themselves fit and the apparatus tuned up for fire extinguishment, the requiring of this small amount of additional service is sure to receive generous support from the local civic organizations and property owners.

Assume as a fair average example a municipality of about 8000 population maintaining on a volunteer basis two engine or hose companies and one ladder company. The purchase of 18 “Shuredry” covers at an approximate cost of $330 would permit of 5 being carried on the ladder and 2 on each of the other pieces and provide a complete spare shift; $30 more would procure a sufficient assortment of other needed appliances. Select from the membership of each existing company 5 or 6 of the best qualified men to devote their time and energy to studying up-to-date salvage methods and putting them into practice. What is the expenditure of $360 to a municipality of this size and importance, where there is not only a possibility but a good probability of its paying for itself many times over if not at the very first fire certainly at the one closely following.

Presented before the New Jersey State Fire Chiefs’ Association at its Meeting on April 28, 1925.

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