THE LONDON FIRE.

THE LONDON FIRE.

IN another column of this issue of FIRE AND WATER will be found some interesting information as to the fire service of London the perusal of which may, perhaps, modify the opinions of many of our readers,at least as to the personnel of the Metropolitan fire brigade, which has most unjustly come in for a large share of blame in the matter of the recent destructive fire. It must not be forgotten that the conditions in the British metropolis and those in America, so far as regards the firemen, are totally different. The London firemen are organized under semimilitary discipline, with a naval officer at their head, appointed, it is claimed, through Court influence, not on account of his having had any experience as a fire fighter (he has had none), but in order, apparently, to maintain that semimilitary discipline and manual drill, which, in reality, seem to supersede what we look upon as the practical work of a fireman. Nor must it be forgotten that the fires with which the fire brigade of London has to cope, generally break out in substantial, slow-burning buildings or in buildings whose height is far inferior to that of the skyscrapers in this and other large American cities. Hence, possibly,is engendered in the minds of the heads of the brigade, the idea that there is no need of being in such a hurry as there is over here— that seconds do not count for so much, and that an incipient fire does not necessarily call for instant extinguishment. Whether this is the case or not, there is no doubt that the weakest spot in the whole system of London fire service is its method of turning in an alarm—a system, or rather want of system, that would not be tolerated for one moment in New York, where, as in the larger cities and towns in this country, the perfection of the fire alarm telegraph forms one of the greatest safeguards in the way of fire protection—the alarm being given to every fire station, the moment a fire is discovered. Another weakness in the London fire service is the method of housing and hitching up the horses. In this city a very few seconds elapse between the turning in of the alarm and the turning out of the apparatus, fully manned, equipped, and ready for immediate action; in London as many minutes are not unfrequently lost before a similar result is obtained. This delay is still further added to by the fact thatat a number of the Metropolitan fire stations no horses are stabled; so that, when an alarm is turned in, the means of hauling the apparatus to the fire have to be sought for in the nearest livery stable or elsewhere—thus giving the fire every possible chance to gain headway, and to become a widespreading and destructive conflagration. In this country, however, there is hardly a town of 10,000 inhabitants that has not.its proper equipment of horses, fire alarm, and apparatus in every fire station. Commonsense shows that, unless such is the case, no system of fire protected ion can be looked upjn as either effective or perfect. A further source of weakness in the Metropolitan fire brigade is the lack of the most modern types of apparatus. Whether owing to a spirit of conservatism on the part of the London county council, or to the parsimony of those who control the expenditure, the American aerial truck has not been adopted—there is nothing approaching to it in all the apparatus used. Yet its effectiveness in getting at fires even in what are looked upon in London as high buildings is undeniable. A w’ater tower is something unknown —yet how effectual its services would have been during the recent conflagration, at least, to supplement those of the small engines working with a poor water pressure. The time will assuredly come, however, when the municipal authorities in the British metropolis will experience a change of heart in such matters, and, after a few more such fires as those which have happened within the last few years, will adopt, at all events, the best things in the American system of fire service. Sooner or later they will be rudely awakened to the consciousness of the fact that every fire in London is not of that small kind for which alone its apparatus is designed; anti that to confine a fierce fire to its place of origin—as should be the first aim of every fire chief—larger machines and quicker service must be adopted before many years are over. We have no word of dispraise—on the contrary, every highest word of praise for the firemen of London. They work under very different conditions from those on this side of the Atlantic. Their methods are altogether at variance with ours. Hitherto they have been content to suit their requirements to their methods, instead of suiting their methods to their requirements, as is done over here. How long the insurance men and the citizens of London will put up with such a policy is for themselves to decide. We would not pretend either to criticize or to find fault with that policy—but it would not suit Americans.

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THE LONDON FIRE.

2

THE LONDON FIRE.

ENGLAND’S metropolis has been visited with another destructive fire in the business heart of the city proper. Its details tell the same tale of the lack of a proper system of fire alarm, of apparatus unfit to cope with anything but small fires, of an insufficient number of firemen to work that apparatus, and of a scanty supply of water (owing to the fact that, with six private companies supplying that water, it is impossible for the men of the fire brigade always to find the proper man who is responsible for turning on the water or at once to get at the headquarters of the company whose mains are at fault), of narrow streets blocked by heavy traffic, and of narrower lanes and blind alleys in which the operations of the fire brigade had to be carried on. Probably the poor system—rather the lack of system — for turning in fire alarms, the difficulty encountered in hunting round for horses to haul the apparatus—at many of the stations, there being no horses trained or untrained to hitch to the engines,necessitating their being hired or temporarily seized for fire purposes —the lack of water towers, and the poor style of engines are to be blamed most, of all for the destructive nature of London fires. Fortunately, in the British metropolis, the buildings are of the slow-burning type (if they were such as we have in America, the whole city would be burned down in no time), and that is almost the only real safeguard Londoners have against being swept by a fierce conflagration. The fire appliances are small and of light weight the engines looking like village apparatus to an American at all familiar with the fire department equipments on this side of the water. 1’he alarm system of London is absurdly—we should say,criminally—slow, and was entirely responsible for the spread of the fire;and, in proportion to the area covered, the London fire department force, with engines, has about one-third of the fighting material available in New York. The truth is London must put its pride in its pocket,and adopt American methods of fire alarm, hitching up horses ready trained and always on hand, aerial trucks, water towers, and heavier engines. It must also do away with its militarism in so many of its details, and adopt greater elasticity in its system. 1’ill this is done, it is useless to make a scapegoat (as we shall at least see a strong effort made to make a scapegoat) of its superintendent and to claim that he lacks the necessary experience and training in his work. That may,or may not be the case; but we do not hesitate to assert that, were Chiefs Bonner or Swenie placed in such a fix as to fire alarms and poor apparatus and handicapped by the lack of men or an insufficient water supply, they would find themselves almost as equally powerless to stop a fierce conflagration as Commander Wells was on last Friday week. It is not fair—it is cruel to condemn any man so handicapped as he is; and if the London county council gives in to any popular clamor against the superintendent of the Metropolitan fire brigade, and removes him from office, it will be playing the part of Pontius Pilate, and delivering over to his foes a helpless man, the victim of that council’s ill-judged parsimony and stolid unprogressiveness—anything to save its own head.