Tandem Pumping Helps Avert Conflagration

Tandem Pumping Helps Avert Conflagration

Looking northwest into fire area. Engine 6 is pumping in tandem at bottom center. High Pressure 1 is at right.

Six engines use three hydrants to boost water supply as training is put to practical use at four-alarm baled-paper storage fire in Milwaukee

Experience gained at previous fires on the same spot, plus good training in some relatively new pumper evolutions, enabled 130 Milwaukee firemen to quickly confine a four-alarm blaze in the huge waste paper storage yard of the St. Regis Paper Co. on the city’s northeast side.

Fire fighters of Engines 27, 6 and 21, Ladders 5 and 18, and Squad 4, responding to a box alarm at 4:47 p.m. last October 24, were confronted by flames racing over the surface of baled paperboard stacked 25 feet high and 200 feet long. Radiated heat and embers quickly jumped narrow passageways to ignite other stacks, totaling 4000 tons of paperboard. Only 100 yards away, directly in the path of a brisk wind, was the block-long paper mill itself with still more piles of scrap paper alongside it.

Battalion Chief Charles Roth called for a second alarm at once, bringing Engines 18, 1 and 5 and Ladders 10 and 1. His first problem was getting manpower to stretch lines—largely by hand—around the rapidly expanding fire perimeter, and to cover the severe exposure hazards.

Mains limit water supply

His second problem was water. The immediate fire area is served only by 6-inch dead-end mains. Although the Milwaukee River flows directly alongside, paper stacks extended to the banks, leaving no space for firemen to man lines or place pumpers for drafting. Furthermore, the danger of collapsing stacks (some bales weighed a ton when dry) and of the waterlogged banks caving in precluded any riverbank operations. A dam two blocks away kept the city’s fireboat from reaching the scene.

Two of the first-alarm companies, 21 and 27, were immediately placed in tandem on one of the low-capacity hydrants. For several years, this evolution has been part of Milwaukee’s training manual, though seldom used on a large scale.

Here’s the procedure: One engine connects to the hydrant and puts lines in operation. After the second engine is alongside, the first pump operator increases his pump rpm, while partially closing off the hydrant gate, to draw suction pressure down to zero. Then the second engine is quickly connected to the available suction intake of the first. Roth engines then pump normally from the same hydrant supply without any lines off the first engine having been shut down.

At the St. Regis fire, this tandem hookup was also made by Engines 5 and 6 as the second-alarm companies arrived. At 4:55 p.m. Chief Roth called for a third alarm (Engines 30, 2 and 20 and Ladder 2) following which Engines 2 and 18 made a third tandem hookup a block east of the fire.

More lines needed

By this time, all the water in the 6-inch mains was committed, driving residual pressure down to 5 psi or less. But still more lines were needed. If the fire was to be kept from three large stacks of bales to the south, as well as the plant itself and commercial buildings in the blocks beyond, a solid defense line had to be set up. Deputy Chief Ed Marlow turned in the fourth alarm at 5:04, bringing Engines 28, 36 and 32 with Ladder 12. At the same time, offshift men were recalled to man 10 reserve rigs. During the next hour, six special calls summoned High Pressure 1 (a turret wagon) plus four more engines, the fuel wagon, and a special equipment rig.

Several special-called companies went on a brand patrol downwind from the fire, one of them along nearby North Avenue, a street lined with commercial and apartment buildings. Other units hooked up two relays feeding additional water from larger mains in the neighborhood into pumpers closer to the fire. Engine 30 pumped from the dead end of a 12-inch main, feeding three lines to Engines 5 and 6.

To the east, Engines 25 and 32 relayed from a large main through four lines to Engines 2 and 18. To the north, Engine 20, likewise on a small dead-end main where pressure dropped to 10 psi, kept two lines well supplied by connecting several lengths of 2 1/2-inch hose into its suction from a second hydrant a short distance away on another main.

Ladder pipes set up

As the additional water became available, six lines were used to supply three ladder pipes along the southern edge of the burning stacks. At the other two accessible sides, seven deluge sets and the two turrets of High Pressure 1 gradually darkened down the fire. Several remaining stacks of bales were laddered so that fire fighters coidd take hand lines on top to watch for spot fires. Alongside the paper mill, several incipient blazes were knocked out by hand pumps.

At 8:25 p.m., Acting Chief Richard Donovan declared the flames under control. However, not until long after midnight were most of the third and fourth-alarm units released, and some companies remained at the scene for two days. The fire was officially struck out at 6:30 p.m. October 25, after 8 million gallons of water had literally drowned hot spots in stacked bales.

The total fire loss was $100,000, including an estimated $10,000 for hauling away the unusable remainder of the involved stacks of paperboard.

Damage at a three-alarm fire in the same storage yard in 1960 reached $50,000. Other fires over the years have made the place a long-standing trouble spot for Milwaukee firemen. Like at least one of the earlier blazes, the latest one was set—apparently accidentally—by two juveniles playing with matches among the bales.

Less hose used

The tandem and relay arrangements not only paid off in water utilization, hut in hose conservation as well by shortening hose lays. Nearly 20,000 feet of 2 1/2-hose was used at the fire’s height, none was available on any of the rigs. More companies would have been needed just to supply hose had longer stretches been required.

Another factor in maintaining the strong fire attack was full eye protection for hosemen. At one of the earlier fires at this site, 40 men were temporarily put out of action with eye troubles caused bv smoke and flying ash. But because of the one-piece plastic goggles now used in Milwaukee, not one man was injured. Milwaukee’s mobile hospital and fire department ambulance stood by during the night, just in case.

Fire officials received a letter the following week from the St. Regis firm’s district manager, who had feared for the plant itself, warmly praising firemen for stopping the fire’s extension so quickly.

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