TIPS FROM AN OLD HAND
Lieut.-Colonel C. J. Fox, chief officer of the London salvage corps, in a recent article entitled “Tips front an Old Hand,” gives some very useful hints on the subject of fire protection and firelighting. Many of his tips, ot course, apply only to the British fire-service; but there are some hints that will be found equally useful on this side of the Atlantic.
He is deservedly severe upon the know-it-alls in the service and at once puts down as a “man who does not know very much about his business” the person who “opens his chat with the remark that he knows all about fire.” Col. Fox, who is an old and experienced hand at the work, says: “At our work we are always learning. It often happens that after a tire in London one goes and sees the next morning what is left, and can almost whip oneself because one can say, ‘If I had only known that door was there!’ Therefore, i might be forgiven for urging on the chiefs of all local brigades to ‘reconnoitre your ground.’ Most of you have done so; but young officers should do it. Let those who have properties know that you come as a friend. I have had a large experience of inspections, and in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred the owner of the factory or warehouse, as the case may be, is glad to see you. There is always the one hundredth man, and, if he chokes you off, you should look on his objection with considerable suspicion. With regard to learning, 1 have seen more than one ingenious device at a small and almost unknown lire station. These devices you can always take up, and 1 tell you as an old hand, cultivate that kind of thing in all local brigades, for, however small the brigade is, it has its opportunity of looking round.
“in dealing with a lire generally great tact is necessary. Tact in a chief officer is an essential feature; not so much in his dealing with his men, but because of those people who are likely to give him advice or tamper with him during the execution of his duty. The man in the crowd always ‘knows’ a good deal more than you do.”
As to handling tires: He says that “There are several ways of doing it. First of all, if you possibly can, get into your job at once. Don’t stand in the street, if it is the first or second floor. If it is a rickety building, and you think it is coming down, keep dear, and you will probably not lose a man. 1 believe if you have a particularly smoky job—and this may sound like heresy and you can’t see where it is, it is no use trying to get at it. Let her go until you get a little flame, and you will know where she is. Many who have had basement fires will agree with me that less damage will be done.”
With respect to taking and avoiding risks lie says that “every town stands alone, because one town deals with iron, another with cement, and so on, and so individual risks have to be taken. It is a great thing to find out where the greatest dangers are, and, also, to assist your fellow townsfolk by giving them a little advice. If you see stores and that kind of place, with indiarubber tubing or gas rings on wooden tables, you are not only doing the owner a good turn by pointing it out. but you are saving your fellow townsman a loss he is not likely to forget, and you are reducing the fire loss of your town. In some towns chemical cxtincteurs or compressed-air extincteurs could be used to very great advantage. I have seen several very good saves with small appliances, and it is after all a very nice thing for the fire brigade officer to have a good name among his comrades as a man who can check fires and make small jobs of them.
“On the question of discipline! Men must be taught that what their chief officer says to them at a fire or anywhere else must be obeyed at once without question. It is better to lose a man from your brigade who may be very smart at drill, than to keep that man. if he gives himself airs, for it handicaps you with the rest of them, and they think what Jack can do Tom can do. It adds to your trials anti anxieties, and, if you stand it. you get more of it. No man is indispensable, and you had better have a happy time and get rid of the man who thinks he is indispensable.’
With relation to fires, Col. Fox points out that “there are certain trades that require looking after.” Among the hazardous businesses are those of steam bakers, basket and brush makers, candy manufacturers, cork cutters, wholesale art manufacturers, furriers, French polishers, indiarubber manufacturers, paper-bag makers, makers of glass and earthenware, preserve makers, rope and sail makers.
As to the lessons of individual fires: Fie quotes among others the Drury Lane theatre stage fire. That blaze points out, gives a hit as to fireproof curtain, which, in that case, did so much towards stopping a fire. He adds: “You must look out in your local theatre, which way the curtain is hung, for, if you have overhanging timbers, they are likely to come down, and, in doing so, may carry away supports and bring the lot to the ground. If your theatre has a very light roof over the stage, and you can open the pit doors, it will draw the fire that way and prevent it going into the auditorium. * * * Where there is a light glass roof to the stage and a fireproof curtain, I do not think there should be any loss of life in the theatre from fire.” But he adds that, “if people would only sit still, until things have quieted down, it would be better.” if, also, the imflammable stage furnishings could be taken out by the reliable men, as was the case at the Drury Lane stage blaze, the food would be withdrawn from the fire; the body of flame would be lessened; and much valuable service would be rendered.
As to theatre and other roofs, Col. Fox adverts to the fact that that of Drury Lane theatre “emphasised the fact that timber is better than iron, and, if you can possibly recommend local people to put up bricks and timber, you can do what you like with that building when on fire. If it is stone and girders, look out for yourself, for the girders get hot and push the stones out. With bricks and timber you can stay there until it burns down to you. If 1 have a building on fire with stone and girders, I hesitate before sending men to work underneath. You are not sure of it for a minute.
“There was another point (he continues) which was broughtto my notice at the recent fire in the Old Bailey. In some cases architects are fond of erecting a building with a wide coping stone. This photograph will show you what you have to look out for in a fire of that description. Get clear of the coping stones. They are bound to come dwn, and they are very unpleasant things to come on the top of one’s helmet. Too many buildings are ‘frill and shirt front’—too much money put in to make an architect’s advertisement for the building papers.”
Col. Fox is deservedly very severe upon those who smoke in lumberyards—a practice which he considers as “only “next the miner who warms his gunpowder over the kitchen fire.” He winds up with recalling the “most interesting” large fire in Queen Victoria street, London, where two large telephone exchanges were burned out. He was called, with his salvage corps, to a fire nearby, and, on turning the corner, he “saw a light in the sky showing Cannon street way. The two telephone exchanges were connected with wires, of course, and had fired simultaneously. The following day we heard by accident that there had been a short circuit on the District railway, and a bar of metal had fallen on to the telephone wires from the live wire, and, in that way, an enormous voltage had been sent through, such as the lines were not intended to carry and in that way we got serious tires.”