THE NEW FIRE ALARM TELEGRAPH
Of all the departments of municipal service, there is none which has been the subject of more thoughtful and patient experiment than that of fire alarms—none that has been brought to a higher state of perfection in the last few years. That this should be the case is natural enough. In the old days, when the firefighter had to do the test he could without the modern contrivances for facing and subduing a conflagration, the firefiend worked his will, for, when once a blaze had obtained a firm grip and spread to all parts of a building, nothing could save tremendous loss. It was not from books that the lesson was derived that the secret of success in beating the fiery element lay in discovering the trouble early, and getting to work promptly to counteract it Upto-date fire engines, even all the trusty allies of the present-day fireman, cannot prevent disastrous consequences, unless the brigades have early notification and clear directions as to locality. Of this fact the fire history of the last few years furnishes plenty of examples. The fire alarm telegraph was invented to supply just this need, and it has brought about a revolution. Though a comparatively modern idea, the fire alarm telegraph has had a phenomenally rapid development. Fifty or sixty years ago, no adequate means of locating a fire existed. On the breaking out of a blaze, it took hours to collect the firemen (who, by the way, were at that time, volunteers) to the scene of their labors. Buglers were despatched through the town to arouse the citizens, and these, going from street to street, naturally took some time to bring the entire brigade to the rescue. In the meantime, the fire was at work, and, as a rule, the result was the entire destruction of the burning premises. In addition to the length of time required to summon the firemen in this way, another tremendous handicap to the effectiveness of the fire corps lay in the fact that no means existed of guiding the men to the field of action, unless an unusually large blaze could be distinguished. ‘1 ne companies were thus frequently misled, and precious hours were wasted. The origin of the fire alarm telegraph is due to the late Ur. W. F. Channing, of Boston, who died in that city in 1901, at the ripe old age of eighty-one, having lived to see the idea which he had given to the world brought to its present state of perfection in practice. It was when Professor S. B. Morse invented telegraphy, and before the system became a commercial success, that Dr. Channing, in 1839, conceived the idea of the fire alarm telegraph. In the month of June, 1845, he presented his scheme to the public through the medium of the Boston press. At this time, however, l)r. Channing was not a practical electrician, and he found himself compelled to look about for an associate capable of working out the practical details of the movement, In this quest he was fortunate enough to secure the services of Professor Moses J. Farmer, of Salem, Mass,, who was the practical man, -and inventor of most of the apparatus and instruments of the system. Professor Partner was an electrical engineer of rare ability, and in the course of his long life devised many useful inventions outside of the fire alarm telegraph. In his inaugural address, delivered on January 3. 1848, Mayor Josiah Quincy, of Boston, recommended the consideration of the fire alarm system to the city council. It was not, however, until 1851 that affairs took a practical shape, and contracts were signed for the installation of the plant, which, as can be imagined, was in a very crude form at this early date. Hie work was pushed through, however, and a fire alarm telegraph for the city of Boston was an established fact, going into operation in April, 1852. The system was then in its infancy, and, as it spread to different cities, improvements were being constantly introduced, until at present the fire alarm telegraph is as near perfection as it is possible to make it. Philadelphia was the second city to adopt this municipal improvement in 1856. closely followed by St. Louis, third, in 1858, and Baltimore in 1859. Then came New Orleans in i860. Charleston, S. G, in 1861. Montreal, the seventh, in 1863, beinR the first city to anopt the svstem in Canaria. Washington was next in 1864. Louisville. Kv„ in 1865. San Franetsco 111 1865, Chicago in 1865, Cincinnati in 1866. and Quebec m 1867. Other cities followed in rapid succession, and it would be difficult at the present time to discover even a small village that is not equipped in some way with an alarm system. With modern fire apparatus, the time now used in getting out after alarm is reduced to a matter of a tew seconds. Human effort has reached its limit in this direction, and there is no room to save even five seconds more, except in getting in alarms more promptly. So, in addition to the regular system of street fire alarms, the use of the private alarm system, connected with this, is coming every day into higher favor, and often results in a great saving of property. In connection with the operating of a fire alarm telegraph service there are certain axioms which cannot but be recognised, if the best results are to he obtained. In all cities, the central fire alarm office should be in a fireproof building, so situated that there are no firetraps or high buildings surrounding. For this reason, a residential district is preferable. It is to be desired, also, that there should be an open space all round the building, t he alarm boxes should be placed on specially-constructed lamp posts on tne street corners, each provided with a sixteen-candle power lamp, to enable the box to be readily discerned at night. As regards the numbering of the boxes, the “district system,” such as has lately been introduced in Montreal and is in use in the largest American cities, is distinctly the best. This system implies a saving of time, as, when the first number sounds on the gongs in the stations, the firemen know at once whether the call is in their district or not. Vv hen one considers the extent to which the public interest is at stake on the prompt and accurate indication of the fire alarm telegraph, the necessity of maintaining this system to the highest degree of efficiency is plainly seen to be of primary importance. A few minutes’ delay or irregularity in sounding an alarm may involve a disastrous conflagration. Thus no money should be spared to reduce the chances of derangement to a minimum. The trend of modern invention is towards simplicity and accuracy in apparatus, as opposed to the complicated fittings of former years. To this end, the old style gravity batteries should be replaced by storage batteries or dynamos, which are at once much more reliable and less expensive. No city can afford to neglect an opportunity of improving its fire alarm service, as this investment is one which never fails to pay. Another point of importance _ to he taken into account is the necessity of placing all fire alarm wires in subterranean conduits. Aerial wires should he abolished entirely —a valuable aid to decreasing chances of derangement. In this connection, it is, too, but fair that electric companies should give the city the use of their conduits free. In Montreal, the fire alarm department has to pay for all the privileges it obtains, while in almost every other city companies are glad to grant the fire alarm service their privileges free. Legislation should be resorted to, if necessary, to compel companies to do likewise in Canada, As regards the staff of a fire alarm department: Much depends on its men being thoroughly competent, sober, and reliable. Men who are capable of exercising ability and resource in an emergency should compose such a staff. No fire alarm office should have less than two operators on duty at the same time. To sum up: The fire alarm telegraph service of a city is one of its most important municipal departments. The lives and property of the citizens are, to no small extent, in the hands of this department. and so it is a pressing duty to make every detail of the service as perfect as money can make it.
Paper read before the American Society of Civile Improvements by James Ferns, Superintendent of Fire Alarm Telegraph, Montreal, Que.