THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE AMERICAN FIRE SERVICE FOR ONE HUNDRED YEARS
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It is not impossible that some engines were made in Massachusetts about the time of the Revolutionary War. In October, 1767, the people of Boston, irritated by the exactions of monarchy, determined in a town meeting to cease importing from the 31st of December following, numerous articles of British manufacture, among which were enumerated anchors, nails, peuter-ware, clothing, hats, carriages, cordage, furniture and fire engines. And in March, 1768, the Assembly resolved, “that this house will, by all prudent means, endeavor to discountenance the use of foreign superfluities, and to encourage the manufactures of this province”; hence it is reasonable to suppose that engines either had been or then could be made in the province; otherwise it is not likely that their importation would have been denounced. As an article of trade they were, from the limited number required, insignificant. They had no connection with luxury; and so far from being “superfluities,” they were necessary to protect the property of the people who would cease to import while unable to make them.
It was not until several years after the close of the struggle for independence that fire engines were made in New York and some other cities. Small engines were formerly used, but around 1840 they gradually disappeared, the manufacturers confining themselves principally to the largest. The use of buckets had also been discontinued at the time, on account of the extensive application of hose. Village engines were sometimes constructed with single cylinders and double acting, but being more liable to derangement, they were not extensively used. Rotary engines were also made in some parts of New England, on the principle of Bramah and Dickenson’s pumps (Fig. 14). As ordinary fire engines were merely forcing pumps, arranged in carriages and furnished with flexible pipes, it is not to be supposed that any radical improvements upon them could have been effected. The pump itself was, perhaps, not capable of any material change for the better; and it was in 1850 essentially the same as when used by Ctesibius and Heron in Egypt, twenty centuries ago. Hence fire engines, since hose and air chambers were introduced, have differed from each other chiefly in the carriages and in the arrangement and dimensions of the pumps.
In this respect there was not much difference between European and American engines; nor in the varieties of the latter. Those made in Philadelphia rather resemble French and German engines, in working the pumps at the ends of the carriages, and without the sectors and chains; while New York engines were precisely the same as Newsham’s, both in the arrangement of the pumps and mode of working them, with the exception of treadles, which were not used.
Fig. 15 represents an external view of a Philadelphia engine; the pumps and air vessel are arranged as in Fig. 8, but the piston rods are connected directly to the bent lever, which is moved by a double set of handles or staves. A number of men stand upon each end of the cistern and work the engine by the staves nearest to them, while others on the ground apply their strength to the staves at the extremities of the lever. The staves turn upon studs at the center of the cross bars, and when put in operation fall into clasps that retain them in their places. Provision is made to convey the stream either from the lower or from the upper part of the air chamber. Hose companies supply the engines with water. The firemen, as in all small American towns to-day, were volunteers and generally consisted of young tradesmen and merchants’ clerks, etc. They were exempt from militia and jury duty. Each member paid a certain sum on his admission, and a small annual subscription. A fine was also imposed upon any one appearing on duty without his appropriate dress (see Fig. 12), as well for being absent. A generous spirit of rivalry existed among the different companies which induced them to keep their engines in a high state of working order.
Fig. 12 exhibits a New York engine. The pump cylinders were arranged and worked precisely as shown in the section, Fig. 8. They were six and a half inches diameter, and the pistons had a stroke of nine inches. Previous to the formation of hose companies, each engine was provided with a reel of hose. This when not in use was covered by a case of varnished cloth or leather. The stream of water is invariably taken from the top of the air chambers, which resemble the one in Fig. 8.
In exterior decoration American engines were probably unrivaled, the firemen taking pride in ornamenting their respective machines, and hence most of them were finished in the most superb and expensive manner. The whole of the iron work, except the tire of the wheels, was frequently plated with silver; every part formed of brass was brought to the highest polish, and while all the wood work, including the wheels, was elegantly painted and gilded, the backs, fronts, and panels of the case that enclosed the air chamber and pumps, were enriched with historical and ememblematical paintings and carved work by the first artists.
The most valuable contribution of American mechanicians to the means of extinguishing fires was the riveted hose, invented by Sellers & Pennock of Philadelphia.
Advent of the Steam Fire Engine.
The Mechanics’ Institute of New York offered a gold medal (in January, 1840), for the best plan of a steam fire engine. The publication of the notice was very limited, and but two or three plans were sent in. Of these Mr. John Ericsson, designer of the battleship Monitor, received the prize.
Attempts to supersede fire engines before the advent of the steam fire engine were common. Zachary Greyl is said to be the first who, in modern times, devised a substitute. This consisted of a closed wooden vessel or barrel, containing a considerable quantity of water, and in the center a small iron or tin case full of gunpowder; from this case a tube was continued through the side or head of the barrel, and was filled with a composition that readily ignited. When a room was on fire, one of these machines was thrown or conveyed into it, and the powder exploding dispersed the water in the outer case in every direction and extinguished the flames. In 1723, Godfrey, an English chemist, copied this device, and impregnated the water with an “antiphligistic” substance. He named his machines “water bombs.” In the year 1734, the states of Sweden offered a premium of twenty thousand crowns for the best invention of stopping the progress of fires; upon which M. Fuches, a German chemist, introduced an apparatus of the same kind. Similar devices were brought forward in more recent days; but all except the chemical extinguisher have passed into oblivion.
Among the devices of later times for securing buildings from fire may be mentioned the plan of Dr. Hales, of covering the floors with a layer of earth; and that adopted by Harley in 1775, of nailing over joists, floors, stairs, partitions, etc., sheet iron or tin plate as a method of fireproofing. To increase the effect of fire engines, Thomas Ewebank devised in 1817, and put in practise at . Paterson, N. J., in 1820, the plan of fixing perforated copper pipes over or along the ceiling of each floor of a factory or other buildings, and connecting them with others on the outside, forming an open sprinkler system. Hose of a fire engine could be readily connected to the system from without.
Of the numerous fire escapes that have been brought forward in modern times, the greater part are such as were employed by the ancients to scale walls and to enter fortresses, etc., in times of war. It is obvious that the .same devices by which persons entered buildings would also answer the purpose of escaping from them. As the utmost ingenuity of the ancients was exercised in devising means to accomplish the one, it was natural that later inventors should hit upon similar contrivances to effect the others. In the old German translations there are illustrations of ladders of rope and leather, in great variety, with hooks at the ends which when thrown by hand or an engine, were designed to catch hold of the corners and tops of the walls or windows: folding ladders of wood and metal, some consisting of numerous pieces screwed into each other by the person ascending, till he reached the required elevation; others with rollers at their upper ends to facilitate their elevation by rearing them against the front of the walls; baskets or chests containing several persons raised perpendicularly on a movable frame by means of a screw below, that pushed out several hollow frames or tubes contained within each other, like those of a telescope, whose united length reached to the top of the place attacked. Sometimes the men were elevated in a basket suspended at the long end of a lever or swape. Several combinations of the lazy tongs, or jointed parallel bars, are also figured. One of these, moved on a carriage, raised a large box containing soldiers.
Anciently the authors of accidental fires were punished in proportion to the degree of negligence that occasioned them; and they were compelled to repair to the extent of their means the damage done to their neighbors. A law of this kind was instituted by Moses, probably in imitation of a similar one in force among the Egyptians. Other preventive measures consisted in the establishment of watchmen, whose duty it was to arrest thieves and incendiaries, and to give alarm in case of fire. From the earliest days, those who designedly fired buildings were put to death. A very ancient custom which related to the prevention of fires, is still partially kept up in Europe, although the design of its institution is almost forgotten, viz., the ringing of town bells about eight o’clock in the evening, as a signal for the inhabitants to put out their lights, rake together the fire in their hearths, and cover it with an instrument named a curfew (a corruption of couvre feu) and hence the evening peal became known as the “curfew bell.’ It has been supposed that the custom originated with William the Conqueror, but it prevailed over Europe long before his time, and was a very beneficial one, not only in constantly reminding the people to guard against fire, but indicating to them the usual time for retiring to rest; for neither clocks nor watches were then known, and in the absence of the sun they had no device for measuring time. Alfred the Great, who measured time by candles, ordered the inhabitants of Oxford to cover their fires on the ringing of the bell at curfew every night.
In the thirteenth year of Edward I. (A. D., 1285), an act was passed against incendiaries, and night watchmen were ordered to be appointed in every town and city. In 1429, another act declared, “If any threaten by casting bills to burn a house, if money be not laid in a certain place, and after do burn the house, such burning shall be adjudged high treason.” Regulations respecting fires were instituted in Frankfort in 1460. In 1468, straw thatch was forbidden, and in 1474, shingle roofs were prohibited. The first general orders respecting fires in Saxony are dated 1521, those for Dresden in 1529, and there is one respecting buildings in Augsburg, dated 1447. The following preamble to an act passed in the 37th year of Henry VIII, by which those found guilty of the crimes enumerated, were to suffer “the pains of death,” is interesting in more respects than one: “Where divers and sundry malicious and envious persons, being men of evil perverse dispositions, and seduced by the instigation of the devil, and minding the hurt, undoing and impoverishment of divers of the kings, true and faithful subjects, as enemies to the commonwealth of this realm, and as no true and obedient subjects unto the kings majesty, of their malicious and wicked minds, have of late invented and practised a new damnable kind of vice, displeasure and damnifying of the king’s true subjects and the commonwealth of this realm, as in secret burning of frames of timber, prepared and made by the owners thereof, ready to be set up and edified for houses; cutting out of heads and dams of pools, motes, stews and several waters; cutting of conduit-heads or conduit pipes; burning of wains and carts laden with coals or other goods; burning of heaps of wood, cut, felled and prepared for making coals; cutting out of beasts’ tongues; cutting off the ears of the king’s subjects; barking of apple trees, pear trees, and other fruit trees, and divers other like kinds of miserable offenses, to the great displeasure of Almighty God and of the king’s majesty,” etc. (Statutes at large.)
(To be continued)