Water Supply Tubs for New York’s Fire Department.
The efficiency of the New York Fire Department with its fifty-six engines, twenty-one hook ami ladder trucks, fire boats, water towers, its splendid horses, sufficient in number to equip a cavalry regiment; its miles of hose, net-work of electric connections and splendid discipline is, says The New York Sun, justly a source of pride to all citizens. But the department has not reached its present plane of serviceableness by any sudden or sweeping change, but rather by gradual improvements, prosecuted since the early days of wooden pails, leather hose and hand engines. In the archiles of the department there is perhaps no quainter document than the one recording the pro|x>sition of an eighteenth century reformer, who advocated the purchase of tubs to serve the purpose of portable reservoirs at fires. Aware of the existence of local prejudices, always hostile to innovations, he pre|>ared this petition to the magistrates with evident misgiving, ami. as was the custom at that time, with a plentiful use of capital letters. His paper describes how fires in New York were put out (or rather how, in many cases, they were not put out) a century and a half ago. Here is the document in full :
” Vaga per veeoeum dilapso Jlamma cultnam
Volcano, summums properaba/, lambere Tectum.—Hor.
“ It is a common observation that the Inhabitants of this City are remarkable for their Agility in extinguishing Fires. And since so judicious a Poet as Virgil, hath compared the Industry of the Tyrians, to the Labours of the Bee, I think the amazing Celerity with which my Fellow-Citizens cluster together, at the ringing of the Fire Bell, may fitly be resembled, to the swarming of those curious Insects, at the sound of the Instrument used for that purpose. To pursue the Similie, there is not a Drone amongst them ; but the Rich and the Poor are alike indefatigable in preserving their Neighbors’ Property from the devouring flames. It is one universal. Hurry and incessant Activity ; Nay, the^ have often exposed themselves to the Peril of their Lives, and perform Feats almost surpassing Comprehension or Belief. They toil with uuwearied Diligence, and seem insensible of the Danger which threatens them. In a Word, they stand in the Midst of the Flames as unconcerned as Salamanders, mocking at Fear, and Striving to outvie each other in suppressing the general calamity. A noble Emulation and worthy the highest Eulogiurn.
“ Nor ought the Companies, lately formed for the preservation of Goods at Fires, be passed over without that Share of Applause which is due to so laudable an Undertaking. An Undertaking that deserves to be commemorated with Gratitude and Honour, as it exhibits a glaring Attestation of their public Spirit and exemplary Devotion to their Country. They have been at a considerable Expense in furnishing themselves with a proper Apparatus ; and given undeniable Proofs of the extensive Utility of their respective Societies. Animated by their Example may others project Expedients, equally tending to the public Benefit, and reap for their Reward an equal Share ol public Gratitude. As most Inventions, however, arrive at Perfection by gradual improvements, there is, I conceive a Possibility of superadding sundry Regulations for the speedier controuling the Rage of the terrible Element.
“ ft hath more than once been observed that our Engines are incapable of throwing water to such a Height as is sometimes necessary. Of this we had a dreadful Instance when the Steeple of Trinity Church took Eire. On that Occasion we observed, with unusual Terror, that the Engines could scarce deliver the Water to the Top of the Roof. The Spire, however, was far beyond its Reach, and had not Providence smiled upon the astonishing Dexterity and Resolution of a few Men who ascended the Steeple within, that splendid and superb Edifice had, in all Probability, been reduced to Ashes.
” We arc, therefore, in want of at least one Engine of the largest Size, which throws Water about One Hundred and Seventy feet high, discharges Two Hundred Gallons in a Minute, and costs about Sixty Five Pounds Sterling. Such an Engine would have another Advantage, besides carrying the Water to so great a Height. The prodigious Quantity it delivered would be of unspeakable service at all Fires.
” Another Thing, in which our present method of extinguishing Fires is capable of further improvement, is this :
It is usual for People, in Cases of Fire, to form themselves into two Lines, the One to convey the full Backets to the Engine, ami the Other to return the empty Ones. Now it frequently happens that when the Engine is full Word is given to ‘ Stop Water.’ This occasions a total Cessation in the Conveyance of more Water to the F.ngine, as well as the greatest Confusion in the Ranks, the Consequences of which is that the Engine is empty before the Ranks regain their former Regularity, which cieates a considerable intermission in its playing. The mischievous effects of this are apparent on the least Reflection, for these interruptions, be they ever so small, give the Fire Time to resume its Fury, and which, if often repeated, requires a much greater Quantity of Water for its total Suppression than would be necessary was the Engine continued in one regular and uninterrupted Exercise. This Inconvenience might, 1 conceive, De easily remedied by supplying each Engine with a large Tub of at least the Size of one Hogshead, which, .being made of Cedar, might be sufficiently strong and at the Same Time light enough to be portable by two Men. This vessel ought to be placed neSr the Engine, and all the full buckets to be emptied into it. From this capacious Tub three or four Men might constantly and equally keep the Engine replenished, which would enable it to play an equable and uniform Stream. The happy Effects resulting from such an Expedient would, I am persuaded, be immediately visible ; And, indeed, the Truth of the Proposition is evident and constantly exemplified in Life ; For a Pail of Water, sprinkled by Degrees on a common Fire, will very little affect it. In Reality, all the Water may be wasted without extinguishing it, which nevertheless, thrown on it together, would be sufficient entirely to quench it.
“Again, Fires often happen so remote from Water as to occasion a Want of People, and in Places where the Passage is too Narrow to admit of a sufficient Number of double Lines to supply the Engines. In such cases I would propose that People should form themselves into three single Lines instead of two double Ones ; the two exterior Ones for the full Buckets, which, as they are emptied into the great Tub, should be laid at the Feet of the first Man of the inner Line, to be reconveyed to the Water. This Line would be sufficient to return the empty Buckets of the other two, and by that Method three Men might do the usual business of four, and in three-quarters of the Space of Ground.
“ This Economy is well worthy our Consideration ; nor can We, on these Occasions, be too well supplied with Water with respect to the Tubs before mentioned. I must take the Liberty to entreat our Magistrates that we Remain no longer without them. F^or could they be applied to no other Use than what I have already pointed out, that alone would render them extremely serviceable. But they will also be of signal Advantage in other Respects. They will, in a great Measure, secure the Engines against being clogged and choked with the Sand and Pebbles scooped into the Buckets at the River Side; For the Buckets being emptied into them the Sand and Pebbles will sink to the Bottom, and the Water only be thrown into the Engines.
“Another advantage that would arise from the Use of such Tubs is that no Movement or Change of Situation in the Engine nor any other Accident that might impede its Playing, need occasion any Interruption to the Ranks in conveying Water, to which they are at present greatly subject, oil every such Emergency; For there being no Reservoir to receive the Water when the Engine is full or changing Place, the Lines must, during the Interval, either cease conveying it, or set the full Buckets on the Ground, where they are generally overset, and the Water lost.
“ It is further to be remarked that many Parts of the City, too remote from the River to be supplied with Water from thence, are very deficient in public Wells. I am sensible that when this has been mentioned it hath often been esteemed a full Reply, that the People have Wells enough in their Yards. But the Inconvenience generally attending the bringing Water from thence are sufficient Reasons for making more public Wells in the Streets ; For without assigning any Other, the Opportunity it affords for robbing the Houses thro’ which tile Water is brought is an Evil almost as bad as the Fire itself.”