THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF FIRE EXTINCTION.
It is necessary to premise, at the outset of our remarks upon this very comprehensive subject, which includes, or may be made to include, everything vitally related to Fireman’s work, and, indeed, everything but casually so related, that what we here set down is intended for only a portion of our readers—namely, for amateurs in the art and practice of fire extinguishing—for those who have had no practical experience in the work; of whom there are many that will thank us for what we do. Here is no complacent attempt to instruct old veterans in the profession—the heroes of a hundred fights—who look, probably, upon all written instruction in fire-fighting as the old soldier who has been in the Peninsula and at Waterloo thinks and speaks of the studies at Sandhurst and the schools of military engineering. Our aim is humbler, but is far from being useless ; rudimentary information on the subject of the practice of fire extinction is always being sought after by some, and is therefore always useful. We, ourselves, often receive application for it, or for intelligence where it may be found, and to the last question have always to reply that the only work in our language containing such (one by the late Mr. Braidwood) is not now accessible. If, therefore, an excuse for supplying, or attempting to supply, such information in a connected form be wanted, we have it, in our opinion, in these facts.
A limitation must also be made as a caveat to any criticism that might be offered upon an assumed incomplete performance of a large design. An article upon the Theory and Practice of Fire Extinction might include dissertations upon water supply, fire-extinguishing machinery, fireproof buildings, and many other cognate subjects, which will be mentioned here but incidentally. Nor is it necessary to do otherwise, since much that could be said upon these matters would be repetitions of what has already appeared in The Fireman, and would, in fact, be generalities, where particulars have been already considered. For instance, we have already described the principal kinds of fire extinguishing machinery as it has been brought under our notice; moreover, to go fully into that subject would occupy so large a space as to dwarf into insignificance what we more particularly wish to say. And, in addition, there are several works easily available to all who want them, giving full accounts of fire engines and apparatus of all kinds. It may, perhaps, be as well to mention here what has been written in this country upon Fireman’s work, which we intend to speak of now, and Fireman’s working tools, which, as before indicated, we have not for present purposes, in mind.
The practical subject of ” How to proceed at a fire,” has received very little attention from writers in England, but works upon fire-extinguishing machinery are much more numerous and comprehensive. Possibly this may have arisen from a feeling that experience is the best teacher of how to put fires out, as well as of other matters. The late Mr. Braidwood, however, the first writer upon anything connected with fire extinction, gives in one of his papers excellent and explicit directions upon the subject. Mr. Braidwood’s writings entitle him to the gratitude of all Firemen who come after him. They comprise a work on ” Fire Engines and the Training of Firemen,” published in Edinburgh in 1830; two papers prepared for the Society of Arts, one in 1829, being an account of his chain ladder fire escape, the other in 1856 on ” Fires; the Best Means of Preventing and Arresting Them, with a Few Words on Fireproof Structures,” and two papers read before the Institution of Civil Engineers, “On the means of rendering large supplies of water available in case of fire,” and “On fireproof buildings.” These give information, valuable at that time, by the man at that time alone fully competent to furnish it, concerning the subjects treated of. It is almost unnecessary to say that the art of fire extinction was practised and taught by Braidwood under disadvantages with regard to means, which do not now exist. The improvements which have taken place in fire-extinguishing machinery of all kinds, the awakening of public authority to a comprehension of the fact that an efficient fire service must be maintained, even if it costs money, the introduction of the electric telegraph and many other ingenious inventions and appliances, give facilities now to Firemen which Braidwood never had, nor dreamed of possessing. Nevertheless, the means that he had Braidwood made do for him, and with them accomplished a very great deal. The reason of his success is apparent on a perusal of his writings. His knowledge was extensive and his principles were thoroughly sound; he was, therefore, able to do the best with his limited means, and succeeded to the utmost these means would allow him. Braidwood’s books may, therefore, even now, be read with advantage, and when everything which recent improvement has made inapt has been taken from them, much will be found which, being essentially true, can never, under any circumstances, or in any time, become false. The best and most explicit instruction might, therefore, if his books could be easily had, be obtained by those desirous of learning the art of fire extinction. For it is an art, and does not consist of drowning out of fire by excessive quantities of water; as we hope, ere long, to prove to any sceptical, if indeed there be any sceptical, on a point so obvious.
Another writer, who at great pains has given Firemen a work upon matters connected with their profession, is Mr. C. F. T. Young, C. E., who published his “.Fires, Fire Engines, and Fire Brigades ” in 1866. This book is a collection of all the information which at that time could possibly be obtained upon English fire engines and machinery, and the various brigades in this country. It also gives indisputable evidence of the author’s research, and is useful in many ways, especially to the writer upon fire subjects. Such a complete history of the invention and introduction of any special kind of machinery has never been written as Mr. Young gives of English steam fire engines in this book; he appears to have collected information about almost every individual machine which had been made in England, from Braithwaite’s first, in 1829, down to the last that had been constructed when his work appeared. At tests and trials of many of them he had himself been present, and he records the particulars with the most praise’ worthy minuteness and fidelity. But his “ Fires, Fire Engines, and Fire Brigades ’ is the work of an engineer, and not of a Fireman, and concerns itself chiefly with the means of fire extinction, not, as some of Mr. Braidwood’s.’with principles. It will have, therefore, a more transitory interest, because the means are constantly being improved upon, while the principles remain constantly fixed.
Captain Shaw, C. B., during his long connection with the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, has given to the world several books upon subjects connected with fire extinction. Of these the principal is “ Fire Protection ; a Complete Manual of the Organization, Machinery, and General Working of the Fire Brigade of London.” This book is tolerably well known, though not so well known as, for many reasons, it deserves to be. There is contained in it most complete information respecting the constitution and management of the London Fire Brigade, and particulars also of the apparatus in use by it, minute almost to a fault, but which prove exceedingly uselul to many, especially to those who are making a first acquaintance with such matters. To these, the extended series of escape and engine drills, which forms a feature of ” Fire Protection,” are exceedingly helpful. Captain Shaw is highly to be commended for placing, in so simple and exhaustive a form, the results of his extended experience in London in the hands of those to whom such a manual is absolutely indispensable; no other where is such minute information to be obtained concerning Fireman’s gear and the formula of Fireman’s work. The same gentleman has also written upon special matters in connection with fire extinction. He has published “ Records of the late London Fire Engine Establishment,” ” Fire Surveys, or a Summary of the Principles to be Observed in Estimating the Risk of Buildings,” and “ Fire in Theatres,” all of which are useful works upon the subjects of which they treat.
None of them, however, contain any practical directions upon fire extinction. Whether Captain Shaw designs at any time to supplement his other works with one upon this subject we cannot say; the idea must often have occurred to him, and he certainly cannot have foreborne the carrying of it, out from an opinion that the matter is everywhere in this country sufficiently understood.
It may be mentioned here that although we consider fire extinction an art, and its] practice a profession, $it is not nearly so much an art as it might at some little pains be made. In one of his books, the late Mr. Braidwood gave a sketch of how he thought the work of fire extinction might be organized throughout the country, being careful, however, to observe he had little hope of any such plan being ever realized. Braidwood proposed that a central establishment should be formed in London, and Firemen enlisted for a term of years, as men arc now enlisted for the military and naval services. “ When enlisted they would be sent to the depot at Headquarters, drilled to the use 6f the engines, and carefully instructed in the separating and cleaning of the different parts; here also they could be practised in gymnastic exercises, and generally instructed in everything tending to promote their usefulness as Firemen. They could then be sent off to some large towns, and, after having seen a little active service, distributed over the country in such parties as might be deemed necessary for the places they were intended to protect.”
At this central establishment “a store of apparatus, constructed on one uniform plan, could be kept, to be forwarded to any other part of the kingdom where it might be required. This uniformity of the structure and design of the apparatus could extend to the most minute particulars; a screw or nut of any one engine would fit every other engine in the kingdom. A depot could also be kept at headquarters, where recruits could be regularly drilled and instructed in the business, and a regular system of communication kept up with all the provincial corps. Any particular circumstances occurring at a fire would thus be immediately reported, and the advantages of any knowledge or experience thus gained would be disseminated over the whole kingdom. As the matter at present stands, one town may have an excellent fire engine establishment, and another within a few miles a very indifferent one, and when the one is called to assist the other, they can neither act in concert, nor can the apparatus of the one, in case of accident, be of the smallest service in replacing that of the other. The best might (if a proper communication were kept up) be under frequent obligations to the worst, and here, as in other matters, it is chiefly by communication that knowledge is increased. If the whole experience of the country were brought together, and maturely considered and digested by persons competent to judge, I have no doubt that a system might.be introduced suitable to the nation and to the age in which we live. Instead of hearing of the dreadful losses by fire, and the great exertions made to extinguish it, all the notice would be: Such a place took fire, the engines arrived, and it was extinguished.
“A premium might be offered for the best engine of a size previously agreed upon, which, when finished, should be kept as a model. Specifications could then be made out and estimates advertised for, for all the different parts, such as wheels, axles, levers, cisterns, barrels, air-vessels, etc., separately.” (Steam fire engines were not in use when this was written). “ When any part of an engine was damaged it could be immediately replaced, and the engine again rendered fit for service; and upon emergency any number of engines could be set up, merely by putting the different parts together.”
This scheme, in some respects similar to an arrangement which existed in ancient days at Rome, though propounded by a man essentially practical, it were superflous to observe is now Utopian in its character. It indicates, however, what may be done by those fortunate individuals who are alive at the coming of the Millennium. We have no doubt, could the scheme, if only partially, be carried into effect, together with the compulsory enforcement of making buildings ’reasonably fireproof, great losses by fire would be almost unknown. As soon as the regions of Probability are passed, speculation may indulge itself almost without limit in the neighboring country of the merely Possible. When Braidwood formed this idea of his, and promulgated it in his writings, he must have been thinking of a time when such things as war and political intrigue and unrest would become unknown, and legislators, unconcerned in such matters, were giving their attention to the mitigation of domestic troubles alone. In an altered state of society, such as would allow of this, Braidwood’s might become a realized idea; in the present state of society it is little more than visionary. Here is a grand work for the Fire Brigades Association ; to make some part of this idea possible; and then to make some sort of a fact out of it. Which, now the Fire Brigades Association seems to have made up its mind at last to do something worth doing, we may see accomplished before long.— London Fireman.