What Chance Have the Firemen?
The Increasing Number of Automobiles in Use and the Desire to Follow Apparatus Adds to Dangers of the Fire Service
WHEN the fire department depended upon the horse for motive power, the problems that confronted the men on the apparatus were far simpler than the conditions that exist today because of the use of the automobile and the electric trolley. This article indicates the result of present day habits.
Who has the right of way?
There is scarcely a fire department in the United States of any size that has not had an accident that is the direct result of either a motorman or an automobile driver believing that they had time to reach a certain spot before the oncoming fire apparatus. Some cities have been less fortunate than others, and many pieces of apparatus have been delegated to the junk pile.
Within a few weeks, Elmira, N. Y., has had three major smash-ups, each of which could have been prevented by the exercise of a small amount of common sense on the part of the ones who are given the privilege by the state to drive automobiles.
Parking automobiles along both sides of the street with the control mechanism locked also adds to the trying conditions.
In one instance a 750-gallon pumper was answering an alarm from the down town section of the city and was traveling through a narrow thoroughfare which was lined on both sides with parked automobiles. At a point where one street merges into an other at a very sharp angle, the asphalt pavement had just been sprinkled. Swerving into the road, the driver ot the fire apparatus felt his machine skidding and applied his brakes, but too late. The machine crashed into a parked car damaging the front fender and running board, spring, headlight and axle of the apparatus. The fire itself was of minor consequence and could have been extinguished with a chemical tank.
Some Bad Accidents in Elmira, N. Y.
Another accident in Elmira occurred when a 750-gallon pumper went to answer a fire alarm caused bv a man leaving a lighted pipe in his coat pocket. With the siren blowing and the bell clanging, the apparatus swung around a corner and was confronted by an oncoming street car. The motorman had ample time in which to stop the car but evidently he lost his head. The driver of the fire apparatus saw that a head-on collision was inevitable but he could not pull up to the curb because of the large number of cars that were parked there. In the fraction of a section he discovered a space to which he could direct the pumper. All that he could do was to nose in the front end. The trolley car came on and hit the pumper opposite the pump outlets. Because of the accident, it was necessary to remove the lieutenant to the hospital and to completely rebuild the apparatus.
The worst of the series of three took place when a company was responding to a “dump” fire which was ordinarily outside of the usual run. The driver proceeded to the fire at a good rate of speed when suddenly there swerved into the path of the apparatus, a woman driving a sedan. She became confused when she saw the oncoming fire company. In order to avoid a head-on collision, the driver of the apparatus directed his machine to the curb and struck a tree head-on. The truck was completely demolished and it was necessary to purchase a new one. But the major result was the resulting injury to three of the firemen, one of whom received a triple break of the upper arm.
Crashes on the Coast
Out in Portland, Ore., one company went to answer an alarm caused by a minor fire, but on way the truck collided with a trollev car.
In Los Angeles, Cal., a trolley car crashed into a fire apparatus while on the way to a fire. The crash was so bad that one of the fireman was pinned in when the two masses of steel met — the trolley car ploughed so far into the apparatus that it required a number of men and a tow car to release the victim.
All of these accidents arc directly attributable to the parked cars on the streets or to the drivers failing to give the fire department the right of way which the city makes mandatory by ordinance.
Chiefs Urge Municipal Garages
Many cities advocate the construction of municipal garages to take the many cars off the streets. While the chiefs realize that the parking of automobiles in the congested section of the city will soon have to be prohibited, they also are cognizant of the injury that this will have upon the business ot the district and they are loath to institute such measures. Chief Charles S. Coomb, head of the Syracuse, N. V, fire department is one of the many who sec in the municipal garage, the end of the parking evil.
Chief Coombs said. “There will be less loss ot life and property caused by the fact that the apparatus could not get near a burning building because of the cars standing at the curb. ‘
“There was a fire in the down town section on the top floor of a building that was occupied by a concern employing a large number of girls. Their exit was cut off by flames and smoke – -the only way to get them out was by way of the windows. Luckily thev were all out of the building when the fire occurred. There was a solid mass of cars that would have made it impossible to raise a ladder up to the windows.”
Chief Coombs had been given authority to ram the automobiles with the fire apparatus should he find it necessary in order to get the cars out of the way, and unless conditions in his city improves, he believes that he may have to avail himself of the privilege. …
The parking condition is the result of the present day habits and customs of the people so that the blame can not be traced to any individual. However, the craze of following fire department cars and of trying to race the apparatus to a certain spot is a matter of a more serious consequence. In such eases, there is the distinct desire of some one to do an act which the law defines as being contradictory to the privileges of the public.
Necessary To Make Examples
Some cities, have tried the plan of having a member of the police force ride on the apparatus on the way to tire so as ti note the license plate number of the automobiles whose drivers persist in violating the traffic laws.
Threats alone will not remedy the situation. It is necessary to bring one or two violators before the court, and if louud guilty, to he given as heavy a sentence as is possible according to the merits of the case. Should an example be made of one or two cases, and the newspapers give the incident the greatest possible publicity, others who have been doing the same thing will be discouraged from keeping on with such habits.
The first rule of the fire department is to save life, and then property. There is no sane reason why the lives of some firemen should be sacrificed foolishly on the way to answer a call which may be nothing more than to put out a small rubbish fire. Nor is there any just cause to jeopardize the life of the men because some fanatic likes to have the thrill of watching the fire apparatus dash by.
Chief Kenlon once stated that there are more men killed while going to a fire than were killed while fighting a fire. This is not a natural condition but is one that is brought on by the thoughtless acts of a small minority who go to make a component part of the population.
All the traffic devices in the world can not remedy a condition where there is a willful intent to do certain things. However, punishment by the courts will bring home the seriousness of the art where an unlimited amount of preaching would make no impression.
Remember the chances that the firemen take.