THE DECATUR FIRE DEPARTMENT
Reporting on the fire conditions at Decatur, Ill., the Committee on Fire Prevention of the National Board of Fire Underwriters says that the fire department is under the command of a capable chief and that good methods are used. The city, according to the report, has a population of 38,000 and has been under commission government since May 30, 1911. The Mayor and four commissioners are eleced for four-year terms. The city is located on the Sangamon river and covers an area of 6.7 square miles, about four-fifths of which is built upon. The surface is mainly level in the built-up portions; elevations in feet above sea level range from about 590 along the river to 694 in the northwestern section. Grades average about 11/2 per cent., with a maximum of 5 per cent, for a short distance. Streets in the principal mercantile district are 60 to 80 feet wide, mostly 80 feet; elsewhere they are mainly 60 feet. There are 110 miles of streets, of which 38 miles are paved with brick, 9¾ miles with asphalt and 1 1/4 miles with wood block. The chief industries of the city include coal mining, woodworking and the manufacture of plumbing supplies, corn products, soda fountains, refrigerators, and structural iron and steel, and there are extensive railroad shops.
The gross fire loss for the past five years, as given in the fire department records, was $805,195, varying between $31,344 in 1912 and $589,051 in 1914, of which $528,585 was on one fire. The average number of fires per year was 135, varying between 118 in 1910 and 153 in 1912, with an average loss per fire of $1,193.
The fire department has been full paid since 1884. It is under the supervision of the Superintendent of Public Health and Safety, John F. Mattes, whose term expires in May, 1919. Chief C. W. Devore, age 56, was appointed to his present position in 1890, and has been a member of the department since 1884. The chief is elected by the city council and may be removed at any time by a majority vote. He has entire charge of men and apparatus, makes all appointments and promotions, including his assistant, and has full power to enforce discipline, either by fine, suspension or dismissal. He is an experienced fireman and a good disciplinarian. The chief’s driver keeps the department records. Assistant Chief Edward Platt, age 59, was appointed to his present position in 1913, has been a captain since 1890 and a member of the department since 1888. The total active force consists of 2 chief officers, 3 captains, 2 engineers. 3 truckmen and 25 hosemen, and 2 substitutes. The fire stations are of 11/2- or 2-story joisted brick construction. Station 4 is a new 1 1/2-story building, with sleeping room in the rear of the apparatus and the second floor used as a recreation room. Each station is heated by steam and lighted by electricity. Doors are swinging, opened from the driver’s seat. Stall trips and lighting switches are operated by hand. There is room in each station for additional apparatus.
Operation of Department.
The rules and regulations under which the department is operating were issued in 1897 by a former board of fire commissioners. Special cases are. usually governed by verbal orders from the chief. Charges are preferred by company officers to the chief, who decides all cases. Members have right of appeal to the board of city commissioners, but this has never been done, it is said. The chief may reprimand, fine, transfer, suspend or discharge. There have been no serious cases of infraction of rules within recent years. Dicipline is said to be good. Horses are hitched twice a day and on all alarms. Motors are started twice a day and sometimes on cold evenings to warm the circulating water. The usual response to alarms in the principal mercantile district is 3 hose wagons and the ladder truck, and to first alarms in residential sections is 2 hose wagons and, in some sections, the truck. A second alarm call out the entire department. When in quarters, the chief’s car responds to all alarms with 2 men in addition to the driver. Motor hose wagons return for the reserve engines when needed. There is no running card, but a board in each station contains a complete list of boxes. The same response is made to telephone and verbal alarms as is made to a box alarm. There are a number of railroad crossings on important streets that might delay apparatus. Records for 1914 show that of the 156 fires requiring the use of apparatus, 47 were extinguished with chemicals alone, 10 with chemicals and water, 35 with pails of water, 6 with garden hose, 45 with hydrant streams, and 13 were smothered. Hose lines direct from hydrants, with 1 1/8-inch shut-off or 1 1/4-inch adjustable shut-off nozzles, are used at practically all fires. The per capita expense for maintenance for the year 1913-14 was 98 cents, based on an estimated population of 37,000. No civil service regulations have been adopted. All appointments and promotions are made by the chief. The only requirements are that applicants be between 21 and 35 years of age and submit a physician’s certificate that they are in good physical condition. The officers have all had long service. Engineers are not required to hold an engineer’s license. New members usually serve for some time as substitutes. There is no age limit for retirement. A firemen’s pension fund, maintained by one per cent, of the licenses collected by the city, by fines, 1 per cent, of the premiums of foreign fire insurance companies, and of the salaries of members of the fire department, gifts, etc., pays a pension of half salary in case of total disability; a member may retire after 20 years’ service on half salary. Pensions are also paid to widows, minor children or dependent parents of deceased members. The Illinois Firemen’s Association pays $2.00 per day in case of accident, and one assessment on all members in case of death while doing fire service. Salary is continued to members injured while doing fire service.
Companies and Equipment.
There are 1 combined hose and ladder and assistant chief acts as captain of the combined hose and ladder company; other com3 hose companies in service in 4 stations. The panies have a captain; the senior member of the company is in charge during the absence of the captain. Hose Companies 1 and 2 have a steam engine in reserve and each has an engineer. About 20 men are trained as chauffeurs. Men are given 3 hours per day for meals, one day off in 7 and 2 weeks’ annual vacation. Members respond to serious fires during meal time. Men are granted special leave by the chief by providing and paying a substitute. A substitute is employed during sickness and unusual absence. Watch is maintained during the day and at night a man sleeps on the apparatus floor of all houses. During vacation, days off and meal hours, the force is reduced 43 per cent. One hose company is located just within the principal mercantile district, a second hose company and the truck is within ½ mile and a third hose company is within ¾ mile of all points in the district. Most of the larger buildings and factories have a hose company within ⅝ mile.
*1 automobile. † Loaned to Springfield, Ill.
Motor hose wagons Nos. 1 and 2 were placed in service in 1911 and 1912. Wagons 3 and 4 have touring car chasses with reinforced frame. Two wagons carry extra tires and the other 2 carry extra wheels. Each wagon is fitted with pneumatic tires. Chemical tanks are provided with connections for 2 1/2-inch hose. Two wagons are provided with draw-bars. The ladder truck is a light wood frame service truck built in a local shop in 1894, and equipped with Seagrave trussed ladders. It carries a 65-foot extension and 3 other ladders, including one with roof hooks; it has rubber tires and band brakes, and is drawn by two horses. The chief is provided with a 4-passenger, 40 horse-power Rambler motor car, and the assistant chief has a rubber-tired buggy, which he uses in going to meals and for inspection work. Hose is 2 1/2inch, 3 and 4-ply woven jacket, cotton rubber-lined, purchased by the Superintendent of Public Health and Safety, after competitive bidding. On delivery about half of each order is tested to 150 pounds pressure. After hose has been in service for some time it is tested, and when found porous is turned over to other city departments. Unless used at fires, hose is shifted on wagons monthly. The supply of hose on hand allows about 1,800 feet per hose wagon. Each station has a rack in the cellar for washing and drying hose, and 2 stations have short towers in which the hose is hung after drying. Hose is replaced on wagons after fires and, when wet, is replaced with dry hose immediately on reaching the station. In warm weather, hose is dried on sidewalk. Three thousand feet of hose has been purchased in 5 years and 3,200 feet, or 39 per cent., of the total supply, is more than 7 years old. A die has been made and arrangements are under way to change hose couplings and hydrant connections to National Standard. Two horses are used for the ladder truck and 1 as a spare horse and in the assistant chief’s buggy. They are exercised daily when they have not responded to an alarm. All drivers assist at fires. Each company reports to Station 1 by telephone when ready to go back into service. The department cleans up after ordinary fires. When conditions warrant it, a man with a hose line is left to watch for rekindling. During the summer buildings in the business district are inspected monthly, and during the winter as often as the manual strength of the department will permit. The man making the inspection files a report on a special card of each building inspected; when hazardous conditions are found, if the occupants do not clean up in 10 days the case is reported to an inspector from the State Fire Marshal’s office. The chief makes additional inspections on complaints. One man is detailed to the evening performance in one theatre. The chief inspects moving picture establishments at frequent intervals. The chief’s driver keeps record of fires, showing losses, insurance, occupancy, kind of building and work done by the department; a monthly report is made to the citycommissioners. The chief makes an annual report to the superintendent. The latest recommendations include the purchase of a 75-foot automobile aerial truck, 2 deluge sets and 1,000 feet of hose, and appointment of 2 additional men.
Photo courtesy Indianapolis “Times.”
Fire Alarm System.
The alarm system is maintained by the City Electrician, who is under the supervision of the Department of Public Property. The city electrician, L. H. Sullivan, was originally appointed in 1895; he is assisted by 3 linemen and 1 electrical inspector. The city electrician also has supervision over the city lighting plant, installation and maintenance of street lights, inspection* of all electrical installations and issues permits for the erection of poles. The central equipment is on the apparatus floor of Fire Station 2, a 2-story joisted brick building erected in 1888 and 1902 and containing quarters for Hose 2 and police department lock up. The sytem is of single-circuit type, in two loops, with a Gamewell 2-circuit wooden, battery-charging and a testing board, installed in 1904, with storage batteries in duplicate. Batteries are 6-ampere-hour chloride accumulator cells mounted on glass rails on paraffined wood blocks on iron brackets in a venilated closet. Each set is charged on alternate days through lamp resistance and is capable of operating the system for about 48 hours without recharging. At Stations 1, 2 and 3 is a large gong and a visual indicator; at Station 4 is a small gong and a punch register. There is a push button for operating the large gong and a hand pull for releasing horses at Station 2. Each station has a telephone on a direct line from each telephone exchange and also a telephone on a multiple line from the exchange of the Decatur Home Telephone Company, used exclusively for transmitting fire alarms from the exchange. At the water works pumping station is a gong and indicator and a telephone on the multiple line. There is also a gong in the police station and the chief’s residence. There are 72 spring-actuated, trigger pull, Gamewell boxes.
Photo by E. G. Jenkins
The following are included in the recommendations of the committee: That all members, including chief officers, be appointed for indefinite terms, with removal only for cause. That 2 officers be appointed for each company. That a motor triple combination wagon be provided at Station 1 and present motor combination hose wagon be placed with one of the other companies in place of the plain wagon. That a motor quick-raising 75-foot aerial truck be provided at Station 1. That one of the present plain motor hose wagons in reserve at Station 2 be loaded with 1,000 feet of hose and equipped with a turret pipe. That two hose companies be established, equipped with motor combination hose wagons.