The Questions of Assistant Chief Ford Are Answered Editorially
The four-story brick building of the Jonathan Bartley Crucible Company, in the northern part of Trenton, N. J., caught fire recently, and was severely damaged before the fire was gotten under control. The structure occupied a space of about 175×200 feet, U-shaped in rear. The engine room was between the two wings, with the second floor passing over this room and connecting the wings. The fire started from an unknown cause in some baled straw in the packing room, back of the engine room, and the open wooden stairs to second floor were also burning when the firemen arrived, under command of Assistant Chief John G. Ford. The apparatus in hand at the first alarm was one Boyd motor, two American-LaFrance tractored steamers, and one horse-drawn hose carriage. The second alarm brought one American-LaFrance tractored steamer and one motor pumper, and one Thomas pumper. There were five three-way hydrants available, from 250 to 400 feet apart. Six engine streams were thrown, using 3,650 2 1/2-inch hose with 1 1/4-inch nozzles, and 300 feet 1-inch hose, with 54-inch nozzles. Assistant Chief Ford asks the following questions in connection with this fire: One company worked in straw pile, the other wet downstairs the two bales and used a stream on the fire around elevator. Members sent by ladder to second floor reported it clear of fire, and presumed drenching at elevator on this floor would vanquish the flames. An officer reported wall at cornice shoving out badly from expansion of iron beams; 1 ordered men out for safety for temporary frontal attack on second floor so as to keep water at elevator, and immediately sent in second alarm to cover any eventualities. Returning from this duty, found fire upstairs, sent lines through other wing to one-story shed in the U and handled the situation from there until wetting down was only work left. As elevator had been left at third floor, and as second floor was reported clear of fire when I left to send second call, my theory is that combustion occurred on the third floor from combination of heat arising from below and the intense heat of that day facilitated by the slag roofing, which contains much tar. Would be obliged for your opinion of this. This is a substantial building of slow-burning construction, heavy double floors, stairs not standard, but flame did not arise there. Elevator sheathed but with gates at entrance, considerable woodwork first floor and at place where packing material was kept at the right front of this particular wing. As I received reports from my men that the second and third floors did not show fire, only heavy smoke, would it be possible, in your estimation, for burning and heat at first floor with the outward heat to expand and elongate the beams of iron so as to push out the walls at the cornice at front and corner of this wing?”
Answer: Fire could hardly start in the tar roofing itself from spontaneous combustion. as tar does not contain the necessary elements to produce the chemical reaction which causes spontaneous combustion. Were there bales of straw on the third floor it is not unlikely that thesr were ignited by spontaneous combustion Hay and straw are frequently fired bychemical reactions therein, especially when stacked. There is no reason why a bale of straw, especially if damp, could not ignite the same as a straw or hay stack, and it is a logical conclusion that the fire originated from this cause. The effect of the heat outside the building would at least hasten the reactions, it not being entirely responsible for keeping the temperature at such a point that radiation from the bales was less than the rate of heat generation within.
The assumption of fire officer that the wall of the building was forced out by the steel beams expanding on becoming heated is not impossible, but it would require beams of unusual length to give sufficient expansion to displace a wall perceptibly. Were a wall unstable, it is not unlikely that the start given it by a beam expanding would cause it to settle outward as witnessed by the department members. Another theory which would seem equally as logical is that the wall was heated to a high temperature and struck on the outside by cold streams, the outer surface contracting and causing the wall to curl outward.