THE UNCERTAINTIES OF FIRE EXTINGUISHMENT

THE UNCERTAINTIES OF FIRE EXTINGUISHMENT

Difficulties Sometimes Encountered in Fighting Big Fires.

The constant recurrence of disastrous fires— many of them ranking as conflagrations— points to the eccentricities of course of many fires, and the uncertainties accompanying fireextinguishment. It not unfrequently happens that, as in the case of the recent destructive blaze at No. 474 Broadway, Manhattan, New York, a trivial fire calling for at most a second alarm, may assume destructive, even gigantic proportions, owing to some apparently unthought of cause, such as the failure of the fire alarm to act, the bursting of hose, the detention of the apparatus, snow or slipping wheels, or by some block in the street or accident to a steam fire engine or hose wagon. Sometimes the water pressure is insufficient or is shut off for the nonce, or the hydrants are frozen or set with too great intervals between them, or there is not hose enough to supply all needs. Sometimes, of course, a fire chief will make a mistake, and let a fire get away from him altogether. Sometimes, as at Butte, Mont, recently, a fierce wind will be blowing or may suddenly spring up and whisk a burning ember across a widely intervening space, and so cause the destruction of a distant building. Sometimes an explosion will spread the flames; sometimes the fire eats its way slowly, but surely up the floors of a building, without being perceived till it reaches some more inflammable matter or more open space, and then bursts out all of a sudden and burns everything in sight before an alarm can be turned in, or the apparatus has time to reach the scene. Not seldom, too, an apparently irresistible fire has been unexpectedly stayed in its course by a substantial fire wall, a snow-covered roof, a heavy rain fall, or a sudden change of wind. Sometimes by a well-arranged system of sprinklers the flames are subdued; at others, as at a fire in a Milwaukee. brewery, judiciously set nozzles, each throwing a powerful stream, will save a huge building from destruction, when the ordinary steamers and even watertowers, have been powerless to do the work. So uncertain, indeed, may be the course taken by the names, that there is not a fire chief can always be sure of holding that the flames might have been extinguished with a very few pieces of fire apparatus, instead of his having been obliged to send for, perhaps, three or four times as many. In the case of an unexpectedly destructive fire, it would seem that the better and wiser course for the chief to follow’ is to accept the fact as accomplished and send in a report to his superiors (not necessarily to the press) dealing with it from a truthful and commonsense standpoint, showing exactly what the conditions were, and what further extraordinary conditions (if any) arose that could not have been foreseen, if any one or anything, either in the department or outside of it, is to be held responsible for the spread or the destructiveness of the fire, then, if it can be proved to be morally certain that such censure can be laid to the door of the person or persons or department apparently involved, or that the conditions were such that other responsible parties not connected with the fire department had beetl warned by that department of the danger arising from the alleged neglect, then let him make his charges after, not during the fire, when he is obviously more or less unable to form an impartial judgment, and, having done that, let the proper authorities, not the curbstone critics or the newspaper reporters, deal with the matter. It will, of course, sometimes be found that the police or night watchmen have been careless or asleep. Sometimes the waterworks department or company is to blame. Such, however, is by no means always the case, and for a fire chief to try to account for frequent big losses by blaming either is at least a mistake. Thus, to take the recent case of the fire on Broadway already alluded to: The police were certainly not to blame either for not discovering the flames or for not turning in an alarm, or for not telephoning to fire headquarters. The fire alarm telegraph had failed to work, and the telephone company would not despatch a message. For the latter that company was responsible; for the former the city, for not having long ago installed a modern fire alarm system. In the same way, with respect to the destruction of St. Thomas’ church at Fifty-third street and Fifth avenue, Manhattan: The fire, which started after or possibly before day had brok.en, was probably caused by defectively instilated electric wires in the basement or on the north side of the chancel. In no way was it discoverable by the policeman on patrol, inas^ much as between the sidewalkand the place of origin there is a wide court extending twenty, thirty or more feet from the street, terminating in an open arcaded walk running from the rectory on the west to the vestry and choir rooms in the extreme north side off the chancel. It was in the vestry or under it that the fire started, and as its presence was betrayed rather by a crackling noise—heard only in the rectory—than by smoke or flame, it was not visible from the street, and had gained considerable headway before it was seen, or the noise was heard. From the nature of the construction of the church—with all its structural facilities for the spread of a fire, its galleries, pews, organs, wooden roof and the like, the flames, which had already made great progress, soon got ahead, and the destruction of the building naturally followed. That the fire did not spread and cause much more loss was most creditable to the work of the department, and that the building was gutted was due not to the lack of water or fire hydrants, but to the bad construction of the church already alluded to. There was no lack of water, nor was there any scarcity of hydrants. As will be seen from the accompanying diagram, four large mains run down Fifth avenue, and connect with those on the side streets—six-inch and fifteen-inch mains. Immediately on the southwest corner of Fifth avenue and Fiftythird street, within twenty or twenty-five feet of the church is a six-inch hydrant. Right opposite it, on the southeast side is another, and immediately opposite that, on the northeast side, is another. On Fifty-fourth street and Fifth avenue are hydrants of the same dimensions. The total number of hydrants immediately available was eight. About two-thirds down Fifty-third or towards Sixth avenue, on the southwest side, is a two-way, six-inch hydrant, and on each of the side streets, east and west, except Fifty-first street, where the hydrant is some yards down on the northwest side, are hydrants. Round St. Patrick’s cathedral there are five or six hydrants, six-inch and two and one-half inch, and on Madison avenue at the north or southwest corners are set two and one-half-inch hydrants. There should not, therefore, have been any complaint as to the scarcity of hydrants. The rapid spread of the fire, under the conditions confronting the firemen, was only another instance of the contention with which this article began—that fireextinguishment is a something which is always too uncertain to be assured about.

ST. THOMAS CHURCH AFTER FIRE.

the blaze to the place of origin, or of finding, so gauging, the fire as to perceive at once

ST. THOMAS CHURCH BEFORE THE FIRE.RUINS OF ST. THOMAS CHURCH, INTERIOR VIEW FROM CHANCEL.DIAGRAM SHOWING DIAMETER OF WATER MAINS AND LOCATION OF HYDRANTS, ST. THOMAS CHURCH FIRE.

Colquitt, Ga., unanimously voted for a $10,000 waterworks system,

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