Some Problems That the Fire Chief Has to Contend With
Right of Way for Fire Apparatus—Hazards of Garages and Filling Stations—Manufacturing Plant Protection—Abuse of Fire Hydrants
DURING the past year Chief Mesnar has had occasion to make numerous recommendations tending toward better fire-fighting and fire prevention efficiency. The problems that he has had to contend with are so much similar to those other chiefs are constantly wrestling with that what he has to say should be found of unusual interest.
Right of Way for Fire Dept.
I first wish to call attention to right of way of the fire department when responding to alarms of fire. As the auto traffic increases from year to year, so does the handicap to the fire department. The people of Canton don’t seem to care whether the fire department gets there or not, but if their own house, factory or business place were afire — then it would be a different story.
In some of our cities when motorists and truck drivers see the fire department appreaching, they will at once pull towards the curb and wait until the apparatus has passed, and some will even drive up on the sidewalk to give them plenty of room—but not in Canton. We have some street car motormen who won’t stop their cars on the approach of fire apparatus and will actually give you the laugh when you pass by.
Some motorists try to beat you across a street intersection and having done so, they will stop their car and watch you go by. This has been done even by some of our prominent citizens. There is also the fellow who will follow close behind the apparatus with his car, and if it is necessary for the apparatus to make a quick stop to avoid a collision or something ahead, his chances for running into the rear of the apparatus are good. This has happened upon a number of occasions, and once one of our garage owners ran into the rear of the service ladder truck, broke several of the ladders and endangered several firemen who had jumped off to get ladders to use at the fire. It took six months to collect the bill for those broken ladders. We also have motorists who will drive directly between two apparatus and follow to the fire. Should an accident happen to these fellows, and their cars become damaged, they will make a bee line for the City Hall and demand damages.
Another bad practice is indulged in by boys with bicycles. These boys will go ahead or between apparatus and try to beat them to a fire. Should an obstruction or a rut in the street throw these boys to the ground or pavement, the chances are that they would be run over and killed.
Even some of our traffic police arc lame in helping us secure the right of way when we approach their place of duty. Traffic signals warning of the approach of the fire department are considered a necessity in nearly all cities, and many are installing such devices. In our city there was installed in October a street fire signal which is the best of its kind. This signal was installed for trial and approval, and in my opinion it is most satisfactory. This is a combination traffic and fire signal and has many points which make its use of advantage.
Defective Fire Grates and Their Vents
Many of our fires are caused by defects in lighting, heating and cooking appliances. One of the frequent causes of these fires are defective fire grates and their vents. The average fire grate is nothing more than an ornament, and they are the safest when they are not used. The real danger is from the vent which in some cases is nothing more than heavy gauge sheet iron, such as is used for heavy conductor pipe and spouting. In most types of dwellings, the fire grate is usually found to be installed against the partition wall and the vent runs from the back of the grate up between the studding, several feet from where it connects to the flue. This vent is where the danger from fire lies. You will find that the lath are put on directly against these vents, or the vents pass directly or very near the joists. How can you help but have a fire sooner or later with these conditions?
There are literally hundreds of such grates throughout my city which will cause an alarm of fire sooner or later, which means loss and damage, besides inconvenience. Something should be done to discourage contractors and real estate men from erecting these “traps” and if this is accomplished, we will have taken another step towards “Fire Prevention.”
Every year we have a number of fires caused by defective chimneys, and chimneys in need of repair and pointing up. In my last city-wide inspection more than 800 such chimneys were found and ordered repaired, which was done at that time with but few exceptions. But a chimney should be looked after every year—especially in the fall just before the cold weather sets in. It is not a question of looking up at the chimney from the outside above the roof but of going into the attic and examining the chimney. If there are any cracks where the mortar has fallen out or if bricks arc loose, a competent man should repair this at once.
In our older dwellings wherein a furnace has been installed you will find holes in chimneys which were intended for the pipes from coal stoves, but which are now closed up with what is known as a flue stop. This is usually made of tin, and these holes leave a pocket or shelf upon which the soot gathers. Upon the chimney burning out, the soot which has gathered on this shelf becomes very hot and in many cases ignites the wall paper which covers this tin flue stop and causes a fire.
These tin flue stops are often eaten through by the chemical action of gas, which makes an added fire hazard. Therefore, the safest way is to have these stove pipe holes, if they are no longer needed, closed altogether with brick and mortar and you will have eliminated another fire hazard in your dwelling. Boxing of wood should never be built directly around a chimney. Joists should never he built into chimneys as they arc sure to cause a fire which some persons know to their sorrow. Wood boxing should never be built against a chimney without an air vent.
Frozen Water Pipes in Dwellings
During the cold weather months our department is continually annoyed with calls concerning flooded cellars and leaky water pipes, caused by freezing. And often we get a fire call caused by someone trying to thaw out frozen pipes in a dwelling. If our people would only locate these water shut-offs and become familiar with them and mark them with brass tags, then in case of trouble they could shut the water off in that particular part of the dwelling or building where the leak is. I advise that shut-offs be so marked when new dwellings arc erected and that owners become familiar with the locations of the different shut-offs. Then it will not be necessary to call the fire department, for we do not carrywater keys other than for fire hydrants.
When it comes to thawing out frozen pipes, the averageperson will burn paper, rags and even straw around the pipe where he thinks it is frozen, and he doesn’t seem to notice that joists or partitions to which these pipes arc fastened are of wood and will easily burn. Every year a number of fires result from this practice with more or less loss or damage.
The best way is to get a competent plumber to take care of frozen pipes and avoid a possible fire. In one instance a certain man who was unable to reach the frozen pipes because the cellar was not dug out at this point, secured some straw and with a long handled rake he pushed this straw up under the joists to about where he thought the pipes were frozen. He then took a match and set fire to this straw, figuring that it would burn only a minute and thaw out the pipes. It did burn a minute—and longer, and it also set fire to the joists and the fire department was called to put out the fire. And after it was over, it was discovered that the pipes were still frozen.
Furnace Top too Close to Joists
A number of fires occur each year caused by the tops of furnaces being too close to the joists, and sometimes the loss is considerable. There are many furnaces in our city where tops are as close as two inches from the joists, and some even closer. Also in some instances the joists are even partlychopped away so the furnace hood can be slipped on.
There should be at least 8 inches clearance between the joists and hood of a furnace to be safe. We also find wood partitions occasionally which are built too close to a furnace and a number of fires have also resulted from this cause.
The placing of registers or the making of repairs to a furnace should be done by a competent furnace man. who makes this his business, and not by an amateur, for like amateur electricians and plumbers, we also have amateur furnace men. Remember a defective furnace may not onlycause a loss to a dwelling, but the occupants may be burned or injured in the fire.
Also never put ashes in wood baskets, against wood partitions or on wood floors, for these ashes are usually hot when taken from the furnace and sometimes smoulder for days. This also causes fires every year.
Advertising Signs on Building Tops
We have signs of immense size—some nearly as large as the building upon which they are erected. It is the way that these signs are erected that I object to. Some are verypoorly anchored and others have poor and defective electrical wiring. They have also been a handicap to the fire department when fighting a roof fire. One of our buildings has a sign of immense size and it also has an ornamental fence around the bottom as a further handicap. Suppose we were railed upon to fight a roof fire in the rear of this sign. First we would get ladders to the roof—then more ladders would have to be taken up to get over the sign, and then still more ladders to get down behind the sign in order to get to the fire—a handicap to the department as well as loss of valuable time. Also, supposing men were back of this sign wording on a fire and had to retreat quickly, they would be caught like rats in a trap.
Besides being a handicap to the department, they are also a menace to the public. Last summer during the time we had windstorms, as many as seven of these signs were damaged and made unsafe. One large sign on the building of the Canton Home Furnishing Company, hung dangerouslv near the edge of the roof, and when the department arrived to take care of it, the sign was just about ready to fall down to the pavement. The anchor cables were pulled completely out of the roof on this sign by the wind, and it was luck that no one was killed here. On that same day, the department took care of six other large signs, besides smaller ones. Some cities will not allow such signs on buildings, while in others they are severely restricted.
Covering Up Gas Shut-Offs
Sometimes our department is handicapped at fires by being unable to locate the gas shut-off in the street. You are aware that at many fires it is impossible to shut off the gas from inside the building at the meter; therefore the outside shutoff must be used, and to this end our apparatus carry shut-off keys for this purpose. But if a shut-off is covered up with ground or buried under building material or debris it means a loss of time to locate it. Contractors when improving a street should be made to keep shut-offs clear of ground or rubbish, and not be allowed to pile paving or building material thereon, as it is important that the gas be shut off at nearlyall fires, so the department can do quick and efficient work. Sometimes these shut-offs are full of stones, dirt or other rubbish.
An ordinance compelling either the propertyowner or the gas company to mark the location of the gas shut-offs with a sign upon the building would be of great help in case of emergency-.
During the past year the ordinance governing the amount of gasoline which may be stored in a tank at filling stations, has been revised so that now a tank can be installed which may hold up to 3,000 gallons. I consider this an unjust ordinance especially for the people who reside in the immediate vicinity of filling stations for besides creating and increasing a bad fire hazard, it also raises their insurance. It will not be long before dealers will be storing it by the railroad tank cars at these stations. At one recently erected there will soon be from 6,000 to 9,000 gallons stored. I also know that many signers of petitions for the erection of these stations after looking into the thing a little further, were sorry that they did so.
Some cities are taking drastic steps and are trying to regulate this business with a better view to safety’ for all concerned. Things were bad enough under the old ordinance which limited the amount to much less than now and a disastrous blaze or two at some of these stations will rouse somebody to action, which is the same as locking the garage after the auto is stolen.
Tearing Up Streets in Canton
Many of our contractors when starting to improve or pave a street will at once proceed to tear up the street from one end to the other, and leave it in an impassable condition for fire apparatus, which has at times been a handicap to our department. The use and abuse of fire hydrants by these contractors which I describe in another section of this article also makes a handicap for us. Many cities have ordinances which allow a contractor to tear up only a few blocks of street at a time, which must be finished before more is torn up. But here in Canton we have streets torn up from end to end for a year or more at a time.
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What the Fire Chief Has to Contend With
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Leaky Gasoline Tank Trucks
Some of the employees of Gasoline Companies are careless sometimes, when they deliver gasoline to filling stations. They will have the tanks on the trucks so full of gasoline that it slops over the sides and on the streets. This is dangerous, and I believe it should be the duty of every police officer of a city to arrest any driver whom he sees with his truck spilling gasoline in this manner on the street.
The Rubbish Nuisance
One of the worst things our department has to contend with, especially in and about business places is the accumulation of rubbish in warehouses, stores, markets, restaurants and other places of business. This condition is at its worst just before the holidays when Christmas goods are unpacked and the excelsior and other packing is left lying around in a hazardous and careless manner.
In order to combat this even in Canton I have for years maintained a system of inspection to enforce our rubbish ordinance. The city is divided into eight districts—one for each fire station, and the captains are detailed to inspect the business places, and they in turn detail their men. When a place is inspected where rubbish is found, the occupant is usually served with a notice to clean up within twenty-four hours and a return visit is made to see if the order has been complied with. Some of our merchants are a little slow in complying, and it is often necessary for me to make a personal visit and explain the danger and try to reason with them. I make a large number of such visits in the course of a year. Occasionally it is necessary for me to file affidavits for violation of our rubbish ordinance, which means arrests and fines (that is for some of them), and if I did not do this some of them would never clean up and give us the laugh. When you consider that a large per cent, of our fires have their origin in rubbish each year, you can realize how important it is to maintain this inspection.
Complaints for violation of the rubbish ordinance in dwellings, rooming houses and other places of abode are also looked after by this department.
Occasionally it is necessary for me to visit some of our business blocks where janitors are employed and which are in charge of real estate men. 1 have found rubbish in such buildings under stairways, in closets, in attics and in several cases actually piled near heating apparatus in a careless manner. Oily and greasy rags are also to be found. I try to reason with these fellows and show the danger from fire, and also call attention to defective wiring when found. The agents of the buildings are sometimes responsible for these conditions and they are notified at once to clean up.
If it were not for the continuous inspection by this department, it is a safe bet that we would have many more fires each year from these causes.
Fire Protection at Manufacturing Plants
Around all manufacturing plants, foundries, factories or warehouses there is an ever present fire danger, simply because the hazards exist at these places more or less and in one form or another. Some of our factory owners have become “wise” to this and have installed fire protection about their buildings and premises. Some have organized private fire companies among their employees and hold drills occasionally, when the men are instructed in the use of this equipment.
But while some of our factories are well equipped in this line, our department is often handicapped by having poor access to private fire hydrants in case of fire as there have been instances where these have actually been covered up with debris and rubbish. Also driveways have been obstructed and in one case it was necessary to drag a line of hose across the top of a building to get at a fire in another building. Some of our shops are also located along streams and creeks, and if they would build a suitable approach for our pumpers it would mean an additional water supply besides the regular mains in case of fire.
I would like to see every shop and factory prepared at least to some extent with private equipment, and although some have done so there are many who have not. In the larger shops, private fire companies could be organized and drilled occasionally, and I will gladly give some of my time to any company taking such a step. It is on record that private fire companies of this kind have put fires out or have held them in check until the regular city department arrives, whereupon the city chief should have entire charge.
Fire Protection at Business Places
Like the shops and factories, our large department stores and business places could take a step towards Fire Prevention. Babcock extinguishers could be installed at convenient places and the help instructed in the use of the same. Drills could also be held so that in case of fire, some one about the place would know what to do, such as notifying the fire department, shutting off the gas and electricity and assisting patrons from the store to safety. It is on record that a welldrilled set of employees have acted admirably and assisted the regular department in case of fire, and it is also on record where the untrained help behaves badly under the circumstances.
Managers of business places should see that all heating appliances or electric irons are properly taken care of at closing time—also that Rubbish does not accumulate and that stairways and aisles are kept clear at all times. If this is done, the manager can go home and feel that he need not worry when he hears the fire hell.
Oil Burning Heaters for Buildings
In many of our buildings such as business blocks, hotels and private dwellings there is now being installed a new’ oilburning, heating device which is something of a fire hazard, as the trouble is in the jointing of the pipes and connections. The fuel in these burners is crude oil. Recently one of these burners went bad in an uptown building and might have caused a bad fire but for timely interception. As a means of safety when these oil burners are installed for heating purposes I suggest that the city plumbing inspector examine all joints and connections in order to be safe before their use is allowed. These joints and connections should be calked* with litharge and glycerine as a safety measure.
Overhead Wiring in Canton
Although some progress has been made to get wires underground in the uptown district, there is still much to be done along this line. Many of our large stores have their storage rooms and warehouses fronting on narrow streets and in case of fire these wires are a handicap to the department. Wires must he cut and ladders raised in order to fight such fires efficiently and if they were underground the time lost in cutting them would be saved to the department to actually fight the fire.
In some of our streets the conduit has been laid, but the wires are not in them. Also, linemen from other cities who come here often remark—“they can do anything in this town, but they can’t get away with it in others.”
Use and Abuse of Fire Hydrants
In tearing up a street for repaving or improving contractors will often obstruct hydrants in such a way that we cannot get at them to attach our hose when at a fire and in some instances they have actually buried the hydrant under dirt or other material. This is a handicap to the department and in one case some time ago it was necessary to throw a lot of brick away in order for our men to make the attachment.
Another thing done by contractors, is the attaching of reducers to hydrants so they can have water conveniently for their own use. In one instance as many as five hydrants w’ere out of service to us on account of these reducers. Also in attaching and removing them workmen often spoil the threads, an added handicap to us in case of fire. Contractors should also he made to pay for water used in this manner.
Even the city is to be censured for allowing the street department to use these hydrants in the careless way that some of the employees are accustomed to. The continued use of these hydrants when attachments are made for street flushing has worn many in such a manner that the threads on them are poor.
Another had practice of contractors is to leave these reducers on over night or Sunday. It has been necessary for this department to get a pipe wrench and remove the reducer before an attachment could be made—all of which is a loss of time in case of fire.
Scarcity of Fire Hydrants in Our City
Concerning water mains, it seems that the first main laid out in new territory is always a small one—in fact so small that our pumpers do not get sufficient water for operation at a fire. Also, it is only a question of a few years until this small main is torn up for a larger one to meet the demand for water. Why not lay the larger mains in the first place? If this is done, it will mean a saving to the city, a fact which no one can deny.
Parking in Front of Theatres, Fire Hydrants and Hotels
A certain law of our state is violated often in our city. I refer to the parking in front of hotel entrances and theatres. In addition to this we also have a city ordinance against parking within 10 ft. of a fire hydrant in either direction. This is also violated, not only by those who do not know there is such an ordinance, but more so by those who do. In case of fire at a hotel or picture theatre, the fire department would certainly be handicapped if cars are parked at the entrance and for this reason, the state law should be rigidly enforced.
When it comes to parking at fire hydrants, even city officials violate the ordinance, to say nothing of others. This ordinance is violated every day, especially in the uptown district. Now in case of fire, and we wanted to attach hose to a hydrant whose access is blocked by cars, all of which are locked, and owners in their offices, or somewhere else, it certainly would be a handicap to us.
Also at factories, this same condition exists and factory officials and employees violate the ordinance just the same as it is violated uptown. I believe it the duty of the police to arrest such offenders, for what good is an ordinance or law, when not enforced, and if this is not done, some day something will happen to show that this law and ordinance should have been enforced.