the round table

the round table

discussion of current fire department and fire management problems

Alerting and Dispatching Fire Companies

THIS IS THE THIRD installment of the Round Table on systems for alerting and dispatching fire companies.

Readers are invited to participate in the discussion which will be continued in the September issue. Address replies to Round Table Editor, FIRE ENGINEERING, 305 East 45th Street, New York 17, N. Y.

The Discussion

J. P. Newark, Chief, Grand Forks, N. Dak.: We have only two fire stations in operation at the present time, and both stations are connected on a special telephone line known as the “fire phone line” and listed as such. When someone calls on this line, it activates a relay, which in turn rings a large bell operated by 110-volt a.c. current. These bells ring simultaneously at both stations and can be heard in any part of the stations. In case of a silent alarm, the personnel are alerted when the local gong circuit of our fire alarm system is tapped to notify the police and water departments that we are responding to a fire call. Other routine calls are announced over a P.A. system.

We tried out horns on the telephone circuit for several months and by request from the men, we went back to the bells.

The volume of sound probably would have more bearing on the speed of response than the type of alarm device.

We do not have any data on the subject of heart attacks being caused by warning devices.

If a revamping were contemplated, we would discard all large gongs and bells and install small tapper bells in various parts of the station. These would be operated from the watch desk. Upon receiving a fire call, the man on watch would tap the bells to alert the personnel and then announce his message over the P.A. system.

Charles R. Dorman, Chief, Jamestown, N. Y.: We use bells for notification of alarms and prefer them to other means. At one time, we had a horn in one of our stations and removed it as the personnel thought it was more of a shock than the bell. As long as the device used is loud enough to be heard over other noises prevalent in stations, repair work, etc., I do not believe speed of response is affected by the type of device.

At the present time, we are installing station house receivers, which will be operated by selective call equipment. These will not supplant our regular bells but will be used as an adjunct to them. These receivers will be equipped with wall vibrators or klaxons, depending on

the type of station, to notify personnel the receiver has been put in service by selective call from the alarm office. This equipment will also be used in transferring calls to surrounding volunteer departments, or in calling them to assist with large fires within the city.

William M. Daly, Commissioner of Fire, Buffalo, N. Y.: We use a voice amplifier system with secondary confirmation on bell and tape.

We believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used.

There are no statistics available in our department to show the relationship between sharp warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions.

We are more than satisfied with our present system and contemplate no changes.

Howard Dey, Chief, New Orleans, La.: In our department, we use the alerting tone on radio console for notifying personnel.

We favor the use of bells over other devices.

We do not believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used.

We believe there is a relationship between sudden, sharp warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions and have several heart cases attributed to this source.


What method is used to notify personnel in quarters of an alarm?

Do you favor the use of bells in preference to chimes, gongs, or horns?

Do you believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used for alerting firemen?

Is there any evidence available in your department to show a relationship between sudden, sharp warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions? If so, will you briefly outline the nature of this?

If you were to revamp your present alerting system, what changes in equipment and procedures would you make?

We have changed from the old house gong to alerting tone on radio, such as: one-tone denotes one company response; two-tones denote box alarm, also extra alarms. This has worked out satisfactorily to date.

N. L. Wheeler, Chief, Miami, Fla.: We use a bell and light system of notification.

We favor the use of bells in preference to other methods.

We believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used for alerting personnel.

There is no evidence available in our department to show a relationship between sudden, sharp warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions.

Glen J. Davis, Chief, Beloit, Wis.: Personnel are alerted by means of a fire alarm bell, using the telegraph key in the watch room, and by an intercom system.

In our department, we favor the use of bells.

We believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used for alerting personnel.

There is no evidence available in our department to indicate the relationship between sudden, sharp warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions.

No changes are contemplated at the present time.

Cecil Lochard, Chief, Alhambra, Calif.: We use three fire alarm telegraph bells, followed by the location over the vocal alarm.

We believe bells are a more positive alert.

We believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used.

In our department, we do not know of any heart conditions being brought about as the result of sudden, sharp warning devices.

If changes were contemplated, we would use more 6-inch gongs in lieu of a few 10-inch gongs.

Sylvester E. Jennings, Chief, Bridgeport, Conn.: When an alarm of fire is received at fire alarm headquarters, the operators on duty press the key of the talk-alarm button with their hand to open the circuit for audio transmission of the voice alarm, and at the same time, press a foot control for the operation of the three-way radio. They then announce Signal 29, which means an alarm of fire is to be transmitted. Then the howler horn blows for about 10 seconds, followed by voice announcing a fire is reported at such an address, nature of fire, and number of box being transmitted. After voice transmission ends, box number for fire is set up on telegraph transmitter and sent over fire alarm telegraph to all houses.

The first indication of fire to the men in engine house is by voice amplification and backed up by horn and bell because men are awakened by voice signal 29 and horn and bell strike out box number.

The response is unquestionably speedier because all men hear the announcement of exact location of fire, nature of burning and material, or whatever other information is available.

For the past 20 years, we have been operating on a reduced shock system of transmission of alarms of fire.

If changes were contemplated, we would only modernize the electronic system equipment, with no recommendation for changes in method of transmiting an alarm. The lights in all engine houses are automatically switched on in bunk rooms and apparatus floors.

Frank S. Sandeman, Chief, Long Beach, Calif.: On any emergency alarm, we give a two or three-second tone signal over the public address system to signify an ultimate gong signal.

We favor the use of bells over other methods, providing a warning is given first to alert personnel.

It has been definitely proven during the 10 years this department has used the preceding tone signal, that faster response, more alert and relaxed personnel, and safer operations have been the result.

We have not compared records that would indicate a decrease in heart disease by using tone signals, but we do believe it to be a fact.

We do not have any recommended changes over our present system at this time.

C. N. Penn, Chief, Dallas, Tex.: We use a horn-like tone, which is sent through the public address receivers of the stations affected. This tone will ordinarily alert everyone. The watchman on duty sounds the house bells to further alert any sound sleepers.

A combination of horn and bells is our preference, rather than bells alone.

We believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used.

A great number of firemen will admit that a sudden awakening from a sound sleep causes their hearts to beat more rapidly. This is most noticeable in a multiple-company station when all are alerted and some remain at the station. Those who remain at the station, report their hearts beat very rapidly for a few minutes. While we have no record of anyone having suffered a heart attack at the time of the alert, it is reasonable to presume that an additional load is put on the heart.

Our system has just recently been revamped.

A. McMarsh, Chief, Columbia, S. C.: At the present time we have two methods of notifying personnel in quarters of an alarm. The gongs of the box system sound automatically in the dormitories when a box is pulled; a buzzer is sounded by the fire alarm operator for telephone and all other calls.

I would prefer to keep the gongs for box system and the buzzer for all other type alarms.

I do not believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used, for a person will awaken just as quickly by the sound of one device after he has become accustomed to it.

There is no evidence in our department to show any relationship between any type warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions.

Our present system was installed in 1950 and for the present, we do not intend to revamp it.

M. H. Sutton, Chief, Washington, D. C.: We use the following methods to notify personnel: Public address system on telephone calls received; public address followed by tape on box alarms received.

Our department favors the use of bells in preference to other methods.

We do believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used.

There is no evidence available in our department to show the relationship between sharp warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions.

We have just recently changed from bell stroke to tone signal—approximately 400 cycle.

V. L. Crusinberry, Chief, Sioux Falls, S. Dak.: All stations are alerted by moderate bells and electro-magnetic switches to turn on the lights. Operation is from the central alarm operator. The address and direction is then given by telephone communication, except in headquarters, where we have a public address system.

We are using a moderate-toned bell. However, whatever type signalling device is used, I can see and realize that we must have it loud enough to alert the men, otherwise the speed of response will be lessened.

The medical profession warns us that any form of sudden shock is detrimental to the heart and that over a long span of years, many small shocks and startling incidents have an effect on the heart. We have toned down the bells in our department and it is our intention to equip all stations with public address communications. Of 10 deaths in this department, eight were from heart attack. We are involved in work that at its best causes tension and overexertion.

C. D. Sirmon, Chief, Mobile, Ala.: We use a 6-inch bell to notify personnel in quarters of an alarm.

We favor the use of bells in preference to other means.

Speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used. Due to the nature of fire department work, the alarm device should be loud enough to awake all personnel immediately, but not excessively loud.

There is very slight, if any, evidence available in our department to show a relationship between sharp warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions.

A. A. Girard, Chief, Pocatello, Idaho: We use the telephone to notify personnel.

We favor the use of bells in preference to the other methods.

We believe the speed of response is affected by the type of alarm device used.

In our department, there is no evidence to show a relationship between sudden, sharp warning devices and the incidence of heart conditions.



If your fire department cannot get enough money for all the apparatus and equipment you need, what steps have been taken to adjust your routine maintenance program to keep the equipment operating longer?

Chief Neil Gallant, Birmingham, Ala., Fire Department:

The City of Birmingham established an equipment maintenance review board in July 1981 “to reduce equipment maintenance costs resulting from mechanical failures caused by improper equipment operation, poor mechanical workmanship or negligent supervision.”

The primary responsibilities of the board are:

  1. To improve the skills of all drivers, equipment operators, mechanics and supervisors through the development of continuing training programs.
  2. To encourage and promote a more conscientious attitude toward the proper operation and maintenance of equipment owned by the city.
  3. By screening mechanical records and operator reports, identify operators, mechanics, foremen or supervisors who, through negligence of their duties, have caused or contributed to the damage of city equipment.
  4. To identify and prevent equipment from being abused or misused.
  5. To identify equipment and/or components of inadequate design and performance.
  6. To submit to department heads recommendations of disciplinary action up to and including suspension of driving privileges, demotion or dismissal of an employee who has through negligence caused or contributed to damage of city equipment to such extent that such action is indicated.

The review board consists of five members, one from the fire department.

The review board will make recommendations to the appropriate department head in cases that warrant disciplinary action. Employees affected will have the right of appeal through the normal procedure.

Examples of negligence are defined as:

  1. Failure to perform daily operator checks, i.e., oil level, tire pressure, cooling system and drain air tank on vehicles with air brakes.
  2. Failure to perform adequate mechanical repairs resulting in comebacks or future damage.
  3. Broken axles and drive shafts resulting from overload and poor driving habits.
  4. Repeated broken springs and universal joints due to excessive speed and overloads over rough terrain.
  5. Power train abuse, to include engine, transmission and differential failure.
  6. Repeated failure of hydraulic mechanisms/components.
  7. Failure to report unusual equipment performance, and/or failure to cease operation of malfunctioning equipment, which results in more expensive equipment repairs.

Chief John E. Lee, Charlotte, N.C., Fire Department:

The Charlotte, N.C., Fire Department is pleased with its nondestructive testing of aerial apparatus. For the first test, we had an outside testing firm come in. The cost was approximately $1000 for testing one piece of apparatus. Studying the specifications for this test, we noted that much of it we normally do ourselves.For the other testing, which consists of sophisticated analyses we are not trained to do, we hired a local company. By doing this, we completely test a piece of aerial apparatus for less than $500, half the cost of the outside firm.

Each piece of fire apparatus in Charlotte receives preventive maintenance every six months. We arrived at this schedule by analyzing tests of oil samples taken at random from our apparatus; six months was the point at which oil deterioration and contamination typically started. During the preventive maintenance we change oil, other fluids, and all filters, and we lubricate using waterproof lubricants, pull wheels to check and adjust brakes, and check pumps.

Like other metropolitan fire departments, we have had many problems with brake fade and failure on fire apparatus. We are therefore concluding a program to install engine brakes or electrical retarders on all our equipment. Such systems have significantly reduced brake problems where they have been installed. An added advantage is that they can be taken off one truck and reused on another. We plan to continue installing these systems until all our apparatus are equipped with them.

Steel-belted radial tires are standard for our apparatus. We feel that the superior handling and turning qualities of radial tires justify their expense.

Having experienced several failures of automatic transmissions, we have added external filters on all apparatus with these transmissions. Filtering transmission fluid twice does seem to avoid extra problems.

Chief Norman E. Wells, Jr., Marlton Fire Company No. 1, Marlton, N.J.:

Although we are a volunteer company, we have one paid employee; thus all maintenance becomes his responsibility. Our equipment includes four engines, one rescue, one elevating platform, one brush truck, one command car, one K-12 saw, two chain saws, 26 breathing apparatus, 43 air bottles, three cascade systems, one Hurst tool and four generators.

Daily apparatus start-ups are required, at which time all the vehicles, lights, SCBA and appliances are visually checked. A weekly check list includes additional items such as vehicle batteries, vehicle air tanks, priming tank and power steering fluid levels, etc.

The monthly check goes even further, with other items such as the tire pressures being checked, battery terminals cleaned, etc. A monthly check is made on the operational functions of the elevating platform. The employee is also required to back-flush all pumps and lubricate all valves and swivels. We have four Hale pumps and perform the maintenance as required by Hale service bulletins.

Once each month he is also required to check and run the saws, the Hurst tool and our portable pump. Each SCBA pack and all air bottles are checked for operation and/or pressures. Each of our fire extinguishers is also checked monthly. All air bottles and extinguishers are listed on our computer and are hydrostatically tested as required. Since the employee is a certified MSA mechanic, all SCBA component repair is done in the station.

Since our station has a piped air system, an air-operated grease gun allows him to lubricate all the apparatus at 1000-mile intervals, or as the apparatus use dictates.

All the apparatus engines are covered by a contract with Detroit Diesel, the transmissions with a contract with Allison. The Hurst tool, the generators, our air compressor, and all Motorola radio equipment are also covered by contracts.

We are fortunate in having a retired automotive mechanic as our maintenance officer. Thus, most of our repairs are done in the station under his guidance. This would include the complete maintenance of our three gasoline-powered vehicles.

Chief John Montenero, Monterey, Calif., Fire Department:

The City of Monterey has taken the approach that mechanization and good equipment are the key to future savings.I personally do not see equipment and maintenance concerns as paramount when considering personnel costs. For that reason the department has mechanized to the greatest extent possible to mitigate future personnel needs for those smaller percentage of large fire-type emergencies. In addition, the department hopes to use existing personnel to cover expansion into annexed and developed areas through more effective mechanization.

Captain Dennis R. Thill, Mount Prospect, III., Fire Department:

We believe that preventive maintenance is very important to both reduce downtime on apparatus and also to save money in the long run.

In Mount Prospect we schedule three preventive maintenance services per year. There are two “A” services and one “B” service scheduled for each piece of apparatus, the “B” service being a more in-depth program.

We also rebuild at least one piece of apparatus per year. With the cost of apparatus today, we believe that it is to our advantage to have a person skilled in body and paint work on a full-time basis. By repairing rust before it gets out of hand we extend the life of our apparatus.

Detailed and complete reports are also very important in a vehicle maintenance program. All parties concerned must be aware of problems occurring with the apparatus. The fire chief, the program director, the fire personnel and the mechanics are all made aware of the problems with our four-copy work request sheet.

In Mount Prospect we have a capital outlay program for the purchase of new apparatus. This fund gains interest and helps offset the rising cost of apparatus. Also, when we purchase apparatus we are able to pay for this apparatus in full and do not have to pay interest on bonds.

Our capital outlay program works on a 12-year plan. Each year we update this program because it is close to impossible to predict the life of each piece of apparatus. This program is very beneficial when it comes time to purchase expensive apparatus such as a ladder truck. With a program of this type in operation, the village does not have to come up with a large sum of money in any one given year.

We have recently purchased a new ladder truck for $236,000 to replace a 22-year-old truck. In today’s economy and without a plan of this type, we may not have had the funds to make a purchase of this amount.

Assistant Chief in Charge of Operation Steve Hacku, Wallingford, Conn., Fire Department:

Our maintenance program on vehicles and equipment is indeed complex. It requires a full-time maintenance program to properly maintain equipment and receive an extended use of vehicles. Presently our department employs the following procedures:

  1. All our vehicles and equipment are checked on a daily basis, requiring an equipment check list. This is completed by on-duty personnel.
  2. There are two fire fighters, each placed on a regular shift opposite from each other. They are designated as mechanics and do light maintenance work, such as pumps, oil changes and other related repairs. Extra pay is not given for this type of work. However, they may receive a comp day off, if it does not cause any overtime.
  3. We have launched a program to have oil samples tested periodically by a testing company, which in turn gives an analysis on the condition of our engines. This system allows the repairs to be done before a major problem occurs.
  4. The public works department maintains a full service repair department. They, in turn, handle our major repairs, motor overhauls, brakes, transmissions, etc. This is worked out on a cooperative basis between the two departments. In the event that a piece of emergency equipment is needed quickly we would pay the public works mechanic overtime from our budget.
  5. There are times when our off-duty mechanics are called in for emergency repairs, for which they are paid time and a half.
  6. In the event a special repair problem arises, we solicit repair vendors to complete the work.
  7. A program of refurbishing and overhauling the department’s older equipment has been instituted. In our yearly capital budget at least one piece of equipment is requested to be completed. In today’s economic situation it is usually approved.
  8. The two ladder trucks, 100-foot and 75-foot aerials, are tested yearly.

The maintenance program is headed by an assistant chief in charge of operations. It is his responsibility to see that the program is properly maintained. He has the responsibility of 21 vehicles, including deluge pumpers, aerial trucks, medical units, etc. The vehicles range in age from 34 years down to one year and are all on-the-line apparatus. The older pieces are used for spares when routine service is being done. There are two pumpers that can be used in the event a unit has to be taken out of service for major repairs. The one big problem is securing the proper parts to repair apparatus. It requires a lot of research and proper record-keeping.