THE PROPER SAFEGUARDING AND PREVENTION OF FIRES IN MILLS AND ELEVATORS

THE PROPER SAFEGUARDING AND PREVENTION OF FIRES IN MILLS AND ELEVATORS

The subject of this assignment would be easy, if without the first word: “Proper.” We have heard definitions of what is proper, and have seen the physical results of “someone’s” idea of the “proper” safeguarding and the proper means of preventing fire in flour mills and elevators and it makes one feel like the dear old lady whose sidehill cabbage patch was shriveling up and turning brown for want of a little rain. The dear old lady seeing that prayer only remained, prayed for rain—and it did rain. It came down in torrents and water ran through the cabbage rows in streams. Looking out of the window, she saw the cabbage standing high on their roots, the earth nearly washed away, some almost ready to topple over and no hope now except prayer again. Then she said: “Lord, 1 prayed for rain, but this is ridiculous.” So some of the “proper” safeguarding looks to owners, and some of the owners’ ideas appear to the prevention engineers, but there is a happy medium, which warrants the expenditure and efforts, which are found by diagnosing the causes of actual fires. From this great school of practical experience, I will draw my conclusions and I hope these experiences will be of some value to you to safeguard the food for which our soldier boys, our allies, and the unfortunate neutrals and conquered peoples, are now in such pitiful need. The destruction of one of our terminal elevators, filled with grain, means that just so many thousands of people go hungry.

The causes of recorded fires come under two heads:

  1. Common, every-day causes of fires being those of heating, lighting, powerupkeep, and the human element.
  2. Least important fire producers or hazard, such as new and untried types of machinery and devices for increase or refinement of production, which many times fail because of still being in the experimental stage, and sometimes are successful for purpose designed, but produce other conditions that arc very objectionable from millers’ standpoint.

I know of one special grinding machine, which when installed and operated, set the mill on fire, and after repeated trials was abandoned, and there are certain types of machines of the scrccnings-grinding class which should be in a separate and detached building from any mill or elevator. The necessity of mills formerly grinding wheat to now grind barley or corn brings into a mill a danger not heretofore serious, as this change needs careful watching until millers are as familiar with the handling of these cereals as they are of wheat, and in addition, mills grinding barley or corn cannot be kept as free from dust.

*Extracts from a paper read at the annual convention of the International Association of Fire Engineers, at Chicago.

The safeguarding of mills should be our first duty and that, I believe, should be done by systematic inspection of the common fire hazards and the written recommendations made in duplicate, one given to the manager or head miller and the other filed for the next inspector to check up. Only by such an inspection can quick results be obtained, the inspection to be made at least once a month, or until the mill has lost its bad habits. Most of the fires in our mills are from the common hazards and practically all of our elevator fires can be assigned to this cause. The question of dust is very important, as it is the originator of a large per cent, of our fires.

Chief C. W. Ringer, Minneapolis.

The prevention of fires will never be a success, and in proportion to hazards covered, so must the fire extinguishing devices be multiplied and specialized. A flour mill, full of many hazards alt intensified by highly combustible dust, is usually destroyed unless the fire protection is well maintained. A recent fire in one of our largest mills emphasizes this more than a dozen hypothetical cases. A fire originating in a high speed screenings grinder, owing to defective hearing, was blown by means of fans through metal and wood spouts and elevator legs from the top of the mill to basement. The metal spouts were so hot as to set fire to the various floors and where touching other woodwork. The automatic sprinkler system only tended to localize the fire and could not extinguish it, because most of the fire was in spouts out of reach of sprinklers; lire axes were used to chop open spouts; four private standpipes with 1 1/2-inch and 2 1/2-inch hose were brought into play, thirty-six 2 1/2-gallon chemical extinguishers and several 5-gallon chemical extinguishers were used, many water barrels were emptied and about a dozen Wagoner buckets were also emptied. The organization among the old .and experienced millers working on the various floors answered the alarm of fire, the automatic sprinkler supervisory service called the Public Fire Department and had the fire protection not been efficient in every detail, or failed in any one of the above devices, this mill would certainly have been destroyed. Every piece of fire protection device was in use, and although it seemed for a time that the fire could not be stopped, efficiency and preparedness told. Had this been a dusty mill, there is no question but it would have been totally destroyed. The value of the property was over a million dollars and the fire loss nominal.

After an alarm of fire from mills and elevators without protection, the building is usually so far gone before the fire department arrives as to be of little service except to confine the fire to the premises, therefore it is now recognized that the most important prevention or protection device is to install an automatic sprinkler system in all mills and elevators of ordinary or fireproof construction, excepting concrete storage tanks without cleaning machinery, and in addition to the sprinkler system, which in itself is not sufficient, standpipes and hose, chemicals, fire axes, water barrels and pails, watchman with some means of recording his rounds, fire department call boxes and automatic fire alarm with central station supervisory service, should be installed. There is no other class of manufacturing property in which the automatic sprinkler system is out of service or shut off for changes or accidental breakage so many times a year as in flour mills, and this makes regular inspection of all sprinkler con trolling valves and water supplies very vital. Some mills have daily inspections by their own men who make signed reports on the condition of sprinkler systems. The two important factors, in my opinion, in the fire record of mills in the Northwest are: Inspection and Automatic Sprinkler Systems, with hand fire extinguishing apparatus. Our elevator record is not in comparison, and those which have burned, lacked the standard Automatic Sprinkler System. Flour mills and elevators are of too rapid combustibility and unwieldy to be left entirely to outside or city department for protection.

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