Severe weather reminds us that, despite our advanced technology for forecasting and mitigating its effects, it can still bring us to a standstill, as it did more than once this winter. Cold weather and heavy snowfall affected large areas of the United States, especially the Southeast, which is unaccustomed  to it. In this 1926 Fire Engineering article, “Fire Department Sleighs Used During Heavy Snow in New England,” Massachusetts firefighters, their motor apparatus bogged down by heavy snow, responded using horse-drawn sleighs.

Despite these efforts, “a considerable number of fires gained headway and, in some cases, destroyed property which could have been saved under normal circumstances.” Among these properties were  a home in Haverhill and a garage in Boston. Likewise, during 2013’s Superstorm Sandy, storm-surge flooding in New York and New Jersey prevented conventional emergency response to devastating fires in New York’s Breezy Point and New Jersey’s Brick Township.

In Winthop, the article reports, two boys and two girls leapt from the second story of a house, landing safely in a snowbank. Fire had cut off their access to stairways and doors. The responding apparatus was “blocked” a quarter of a mile away, requiring firefighters to stretch hoselines by hand.

An alarm siren spooked two horses pulling a sleigh carrying firefighting equipment; the horses took off, spilling the equipment along the road.

After emphasizing the importance of assigning fire personnel to shovel out hydrants, author Harry Belknap concludes that “under blizzard conditions, nothing can take the place of horsedrawn equipment on runners.”

Download this article as a PDF HERE.


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