Two Big Chicago Fires Cause a Million Loss
Unusual Similarity of Conditions at These Fires, Only Four Days Apart—Both in Semi-Mill Type Buildings
THE fire department of Chicago, Ill., was called upon to fight two severe fires within four days of each other, the conditions of which were of unusual similarity. In both cases the buildings involved were eight stories in height, of semi-mill construction, and equipped with automatic sprinklers.
In the first instance the blaze occurred on March 9, at 7:43 p. m., in the building at 224-32 N. Halstead Street, the origin being on the second floor in the premises occupied by Block Portilier Company, makers of floor lamps and shades, commencing with an explosion. Eight alarms were sent in, there being some 400 members of the Chicago Fire Department, under command of Chief Arthur R. Seyferlich in service.
Unprotected Vertical Openings Increase Task
The task of the fire department was greatly increased in fighting this fire by the number of vertical openings, all unprotected, in the building and the great quantity of inflammable materials involved. When the first alarm companies, consisting of four engines and two hook and ladders, arrived the entire structure was blazing on all floors. The first alarm was following by a 4-11 alarm and six special calls.
Obsolete Sprinkler System Not Working
The building was said to have been equipped with an obsolete two-source sprinkler system, installed in 1892 and 1896. This system, it is asserted, was shut off in the building on fire, and the tanks drained, due to the freezing and rupturing of piping of the tank-filling line on the day before. The system control valves, it is claimed, were discovered to be shut after the fire and also the section control valve on underground line between the building involved and the adjoining one.
One employee of the company in whose building the fire occurred was burned to death, not having time to escape from the onrush of the flames, and two others were quite badly injured.
Apparatus in Service
The fire apparatus consisted largely of combination pumpers, there being 42 of such engines in service, consisting of 750-gal. Seagrave and Ahrens-Fox, a few 500-gal. Mack and some 4-cyl. Ahrens-Fox cars. There were two water towers also employed in fighting the blaze. The hydrants, of which there were an abundant supply, consisted of double 2 1/2, 3 1/2, 4 and 4 1/2-inch. Comparatively few single streams were employed in fighting this fire, the firemen using water tower, turretpipe and 3-way siamese in their work. The water towers were equipped with two turret pipes each. The tips used by the water tower masts and turret pipes were 2-inch, and those of the Siamese, 1 3/4 and 2 inch.
The hose consisted of 2 1/2-inch, with some 3-inch, with 2 1/2-inch couplings, and some 3 1/2-inch. Most of the companies went into Siamese on arrival at the fire.
Carry Two and Three Inch Hose
Many of the Chicago companies now carry 500 feet of 2 1/2-inch hose and 5oo feet of 3-inch hose, it being figured that the latter eliminated excessive friction loss when long lines of hose are used, as in the present instance, with 42 pumpers assembled in so constricted a territory. Thus, with the siamesing of streams, heavy volumes of water can be obtained in fighting a large fire.
The loss on the building 224-32 N. Halsted Street was total, with heavy damage by water and smoke to the adjoining structures.
Similarity of Second Big Fire
The second fire, which had so many features in common with the one just described, occurred on March 13, at 6:21 p.m., in the toy wagon shop and oil mop establishmen of J. A. Meinhardt & Co., at 848-50 South Canal Street, and necessitated seven alarms. In this instance the fire, it is thought, originated on the seventh floor, used for yarn storage and treating, and toy wagon stenciling and packing. The cause was unknown.
Two Theories as to Sprinklers
Front the evidence obtainable, it is asserted that the sprinklers operated, but tailed to hold the fire, owing, according to one theory, to the fact that the fire first opened heads remote from the blaze, which drained the system before the fire was entirely extinguished, or according to the second theory, some of the branch lines becoming ice bound, delayed water until too many heads became involved. In the former theory, it is pointed out that the sixth floor was used for storage yarn, yarn treated with mineral oil and the packing and storage of toy wagons in cartons. If the fire originated in a pile of mops or boxed wagons, with certain peculiar draft conditions existing in the building, the fused heads may have been unable to reach the seat of the blaze until too late to do any good. In the case of the second theory it is pointed out that the building involved stands alone, exposed on all sides, that the radiation was not excessive, as an additional heater had to be installed to beat the gravity tank in order to prevent freezing, that small lines can freeze and be thawed without bursting, and that the upper floors of this building were used largely for storage purposes.
Companies Forced by Intense Heat to Retire
The building in which this fire originated was about one mile south and half a mile west of the center of the city, and was situated only a few blocks from the spot where Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow upset the famous lantern in 1871.
The first companies to arrive, in answer to an alarm from Box 297 at 6:21 p, m., found the fire burning fiercely on the seventh and eighth floors. One of these units managed to reach the third floor, but by this time the sixth had become involved and the intense heat forced them to retreat. The members saw water coming down the stairs from the sprinklers. Thereafter siamese connections to the sprinklers were used and were effective in holding the fire to these floors. The others were however badly damaged by water.
Apparatus Which Handled this Fire
About 300 men were employed at this fire, with 35 motor pumpers, consisting of 750-gal. Seagrave. and Ahrens-Fox, with a few 500-gal. Mack cars. There were plenty of double hydrants available of 2 1/2, 3 1/2, 4. and 4 1/2 inch, about 150 feet apart, with pressure of about 15 pounds. About 30 engine streams were thrown, with nozzles of 1 1/4-inch, with 2-inch tips on two Seagrave water towers in use. The hose in use was 2 1/2 and 3 inch, the latter with 2 1/2-inch coupling, and 3 1/2-inch to tower.
The loss on the first fire was total, with a valuation of about $700,000 or $800,000. The second fire was not so heavy in loss, possibly $200,000 on a valuation of about $700,000.