Short Cuts and Gadgets

Short Cuts and Gadgets


Our suggested “short cuts” for marking passageways, aisles and openings through which the fire department may operate, in previous issues of FIRE ENGINEERING, have provoked additional contributions.

The latest is from R. F. McDirmid, Captain, Inspection Division, Spokane, Wash., Fire Department.

Captain McDirmid writes: “Regarding the article on the round circle in in “Short Cuts and Gadgets” of your July issue, the Spokane Fire Department has been using a similar marking for the past year for the same purpose (see the accompanying sketch). Up till now we thought it was our idea. Anyway, it is a good one.

“The Inspection Division sees that this is done on warehouses, factories and the like. Markings are below the windows or on the windows inside and outside, to indicate clear passageways.”

The Spokane idea calls for a wavy white line through a red circle, as shown, which we’re inclined to believe might give greater visibility than the plain white circle previously described in “Short Cuts.”

The Old Timer Says—

Having a good knowledge of the fire building and its contents is about equal to having a second alarm assignment right on hand! Of course, it depends upon what you do with your knowledge of the situation that counts!


The Syracuse Fire Department has recently inaugurated what may be an innovation in fire department administration and that is something in the nature of a “short cut.”

This is a “system” which provides for the presentation by fire department personnel of ideas designed for “increasing the efficiency and effectiveness in fire prevention and fire protection work,” to quote Chief William J. Connelly. The program was introduced coincidental with the launching of the Fire Department’s new Training Tower.

Under the new plan officers and firemen are invited to deposit their suggestions in an “idea bowl.” The suggestions arc to be made out in writing either at the Fire School or at Company quarters and placed in sealed envelopes. They will then be forwarded to the office of the Chief of Fire where they will be placed in the bowl, following which their merits will be passed upon individually by a committee.

To spur interest in the idea, Chief Connelly has announced suitable rewards will be made to the originators or authors of the winning ideas. The officer or fireman presenting the best proposal is to receive one week’s added vacation. Six days’ vacation is to be awarded as second prize; four days for fourth prize; three days for fifth prize: two days for sixth prize, and one day for seventh place winner.


Fire alarm signal boxes, or “stations” as some departments designate them, are identified in a number of ways: by distinctive color of box and pedestal; by lights—red, orange, blue, violet blue and other shades; by stripes, signs and insignias. In some cities little or no attempt is made to spotlight these alarm boxes. They are mounted on telephone or other poles, with no identifying symbols; they are sometimes hidden from the passersby—their location blocked by foliage, parked cars, poles, signs, newsstands, and so on. Or they may be mounted on the side of a building, at some distance from the usually prescribed corner location.

Where boxes are located at hospitals, nursing homes, schools, places of public assembly and factories—at which points they are more critically needed than are boxes in almost any other section of a municipality—it frequently happens that they are hung on the building exterior or in the entranceway. It is not unusual to see private or auxiliary and “master” signal boxes located in inaccessible or concealed places, or made inaccessible by storage stockpiles, or plant equipment.

It is not always as easy to identify the locations of interior alarm boxes, and those mounted on exterior walls of structures, especially where the red box is mounted on a red brick or other painted surface. In some plants, identifying symbols such as arrows, or lettering indicate box locations; in others, lights are employed for the purposes. Still others adopt both measures. But there are no standard markings or other identifying characteristics. The nearest thing to it was the recommendations in the National Fire Code, which read:

“In general it is considered that a box should be plainly visible from the main entrance of any building in congested areas.

“In mercantile or manufacturing districts it should not be necessary to traverse more than one block nor more than 300 feet to reach a box; in closely built residential districts this distance should not exceed one block or 500 feet; and in other residential districts this distance should not exceed three blocks, or 1,000 feet along or toward the main artery of travel.

“Boxes shall be conspicuously located, at street corners where practicable. The box and portion of the supporting pole or post shall be painted ‘Signal’ red, preferably with white stripes above and below the red. A special colored light shall be provided at or near every box in closely built sections, to indicate location at night.”

One other point is made in this Code which is commonly overlooked by fire departments. It reads thus:

“Where firemen are not normally on duty at fire stations, a fire alarm box shall be provided at each station, located where constantly accessible to the public.”

All this is prefatory to another idea for identifying plant alarm boxes submitted by Raymond G. Lee of Rochester, N. Y. His suggestion is not new, or unusual, but it is worth passing along if for no other reason than to remind plant and other fire engineers of the wisdom of checking on their own alarm systems and boxes. Contributor Lee says: “Here’s a ‘short cut’ that may prove useful to plant fire engineering representatives.

“Paint a solid white circle of 12 or 18 inches around all plant auxiliary and master fire alarm boxes, whether located on the outside wall or inside wall of your plant.

“In my opinion, this would make employees more aware of the fire alarm box location and it would make all fire boxes visible for a greater distance.”

The Old Timer Says—

In spite of the fact that custom has demonstrated the decided value of a fire prevention division or bureau, or whatever you wanta call it, in the fire department, it’s surprisin’ how few departments have ’em.


This one is borrowed from Popular Mechanics of July, 1947, with the permission of the publishers. In order to make sure that fire extinguishers would not be overlooked when they were empty, one store manager conceived the idea of hanging them from supporting hooks by means of springs. Lines were painted on the wall to indicate the position of the full and empty containers. When full, the extinguisher is at the lower mark; when empty, at the higher one.

Popular Mechanics credited G. E. Hendrickson, Argyle, Wis., with the idea. Nothing was mentioned about the “short cut” being patented or copyrighted. P.S. Some veteran safety engineers are going to say this is well and good, but it isn’t going to correct the bad habit so widely encountered of removing the carbon tet’ from this type extinguisher, for use as cleaning fluid, and substituting water! When somebody licks that handicap they will really have a short cut!

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