WORK OF THE ELECTRIC FIRE ALARM.
(Specially Written tor FIRE AND WATER.)
The primitive methods of signaling for fires have had their day. The old well and the oaken bucket are fast giving way to the house faucet, so that not much more than the remembrance of these delightful relics of the past will soon remain with us. So it is with the old watchman, the bell tower, and the numerous methods of alarm once adopted to wake people to face a raging fire with little or no means to extinguish it. These, too, have nearly been relegated to the shadowy past and in their place that great modern agent, electricity, is crowding all things out of its way; in fact, it is now the greatest known power for general appll cation. Notwithstanding that the most effectual means have been adopted to stay conflagrations the loss bill still keeps mounting up, until the amount has become so large as to make people wonder why such destruction could possibly occur with such excellent fireextinguishing a pparatus at hand.
The reports of the boards of underwriters for the past year show the very large increase in fire losses of about $2,500,000, as compared with the first quarter of 1901; and over $700,000 against the same period of 1900.
This fact leads to the inquiry why this loss by fire should so steadily increase from year to year. Great minds in all branches of architecture and building have been engaged in solving the problem how best to plan and how to construct buildings to prevent fires. Much good work has been done in this direction, but too often the architect sacrifices safety to space, and makers of so called fireproof material have furnished imitation goods, which, when the emergency arises, burn like tinder. In this field there is still opportunity for vast improvement. Imperfect building and the fraudulent material used,together with the carelessness of tenants, are the first causes of conflagrations, great advances have been made in firefighting and life saving machinerv and appliances, until today the firedepartment is fully equipped for almost any situation that may present itself. If this is so, then it stands to reason that the quicker the department can learn of a fire and its location the sooner they can get to work.
The best means for sending in quick alarms lias occupied the attention of the most expert electricians for years, and, as a result, the fire alarm signal telegraph was invented and brought up to the really wonderful perfection which it has reached at this time. The public now has the means of almost instantaneous notification to the fire department of a fire and its location.
Now it remains with the police on duty, and the general public. to make this system of the highest utility by prompt and immedi ate discovering a fire. To this end the public should be fully informed as to the use,method of operating,and location of the fire alarm signal box, and every person walking the streets of a city should be a watchman in the sense of knowing what to do incase of anemergency of fire.
The fire alarm box mounted on a lamppost, as illustrated, is the most perfect fire alarm station for street use yet devised. The signal box, as shown, is the verilatest production, combining all the improvements which have been suggested by years of experimental study. Access to the interior of the box to send a signal is rendered unnecesary, as the box is equipped with a keyless door, with a handle protruding, and instructions as to its operation on the door: “Turn handle to the right till bell rings.” When this handle is so turned, and the bell in the box rings, the signal is going in to the central office. Thus tne delay of finding a key to open a door before a signal can be rung in is obviated, and much valuable time is saved. The signal mechanism in the box when once started cannot be.interfered with by the sender, and no other signal box on that circuit can send in a signal until the one having the right of way has finished, then the next box operating will follow and send in its signal, so that no alarms are lost or confused. This is the succession type of signjl box, and is absolutely noninterfering, as far as mixing of signals is concerned. It is protected from high-tension currents, and does its work automatically when started. To extend the usefulness of the signal stations further and give the public the advantage of direct communication with the fire department, there has been devised special apparatus whereby a signal of fire may be sent from any part of the interior of a building without going to the street box, thereby saving much valuable time. This device consists of installing small signal boxes throughout the building at convenient locations, any one of which, when operated automatically. starts the nearest street box which sends in its signal to the fire department station. This gives occupants of buildings direct connection with the fire department, which is of inestimable value when needed.
To show the progress made in the method of constructing a fire alarm box and of sending a signal, an illustration of the first fire alarm box introduced into the city of Boston and put in service April 28, 1852, is herewith given. To send a signal from this box it was necessary to open two doors and then turn a crank slowly,one turn sending in the number 43,and six turns would repeat the number six times. Thus the correctness of the signal depended the sender, which could not always be relied on incase of excitement. Now the public is simply asked to start the mechanism by one act, and the instrument takes care of the rest.
FIRE ALARM ANNIVERSARY.
Fifty years ago last Tuesday (April 20) is set down as the date on which an electrical fire alarm was first sent in, at 8 o’clock p. m.,from signal box 7, district 1, attached to the old Cooper street church, Boston. The idea had been tentatively put forward at least five years before by Professor Moses G. Farmer,of Salem, Mass., who had devised a machine for striking fire alarms on tower bells by applying electrical attachments to the striking apparatus of a tower clock, and in January, 1848, on the recommendation of Mayor Josiah Quincy, of Boston, the city council appropriated money ior the purchase of two Farmer machines, one of which was attached to the bell of the courthouse, while the other was placed in a telegraph building,and both were simultaneously struck from New York city.
There the matter rested till 1851, when Dr. William 1*. Channing, son of Boston’s famous Unitarian preacher, obtained an appropriation of $10,000 from Boston’s city council to construct, with Prof. Farmer, an electrical fire alarm system. Dr. Channing was in reality the inventor of the system, as he had conceived the idea of such a style of fire alarm in 1839, when Prof. Morse had established his then newly invented electric telegraphy. In conjunction with Prof. Farmer, a new plant was devised and built, the greater part of it being invented by Farmer. The builders were Howard & Davis, a firm now known as the Howard Clock company. Owing to tliedifficulty of finding skilled electricians and the multitude of experiments necessary before the machinery worked satisfactorily, it took a year before the system was installed,with signal boxes rebuilt, and the estimated cost of $7,596.60 increased to 815,000,and 8800 paid to Prof. Morse for leave to use his patents. The system was crude at best. It involved striking in the tower the number of one of the seven fire districts on the tower bells and the station number on small bells inside of the signal boxes. The district number was first struck three times, followed by thirty or forty blows in quick succession, on which, if it were in the daytime, firemen and policemen ran to the signal boxes to find out the number of the box, which at night was called out in the streets by the police, who sprang their rattles at the same timeThis system was constantly being improved, and by its operations clearly showed that the proper signals could be turned in, and that the apparatus could be relied on to work all the time.
Meanwhile John Nelson Gamewell, the son of a Methodist minister of Camden, S. C., an earnest student of electrical science and, though quite a young man, already an operator in that city, placed himself in personal communication with Channing and Farmer, and in 1855. in company with James Dunlap, a wealthv citizen of Camden, purchased the right to use aft their fire alarm patents, actual and applied for, in some of the Southern States, and in 1859 bought the entire right and title to the electric-magnetic fire alarm for cities, which by 1871 had been adopted in about forty different places. Some of the original crude machinery istobeseen in the Smithsonian Institution at Washington, D. C.
Although Mr. Gamewell was not the inventor of the electric fire alarm system, yet it was his pluck,energy, intelligence, and skill which caused its development into what it is today. Boston was the first city to adopt it (the old district system being changed into the Gamewell in 18C8). Philadelphia was the next to install one akin to it —in 1876 — that of Phillips & Robinson. This consisted of signal boxes only; the tower bells were struck by hand; there were no districts ; the boxes were numbered as they are today,and were all automatic. The present system in Philadelphia is the Gamewell,with all its most modernimprovements.
Just as the Civil war broke out, the Gamewell system was introduced into Charleston, S. C., the outcome being not only the suspension of all operations, but also serious loss to the introducers. All the Gamewell rights were confiscated by the Federal government and disposed of for a song at public auction to Northern capitalists, who utilised them for their own benefit in other States. At the conclusion of the war Mr. Gamewell spent months and months and large sums of money in litigation before he could regain his patent rights. On succeeding, he established the firm of Gamewell & Co., which has continued to do business and vastly to improve its system during all these years. He himself devoted all his time and energies towards making his system perfect, and so determined was he that it should fall short in no respect that he ungrudgingly adopted many improvements, suggestions, and inventions of the ablest electricians in the country, but, of course, not until they had been subjected to the severest tests.
In 1858 St. Louis installed the Gamewell system In 1859 Baltimore followed suit; New Orleans came next in i860; Montreal, in 1863 (with the Kennard system—in reality the Gamewell, as John F. Kennard & Co., of Boston, bought the patents for $80—he was prepared to pay $20,000 for them’when the the Federal government sold Did them r by public auction on the city hall steps at Washington in 1863). (The Kennard and the Gamewell companies merged in 1886.) The other cities which adopted the system came in the following order: Louisville, Ky., ninth, May 25, 1S65; San Francisco, tenth, May, 1865 : Chicago, eleventh, June, 1865; Cincinnati, twelfth, February, 1866; Buffalo, thirteenth June, 1866; and Quebec, fourteenth, August 17, 1867.
Henry Klipp is chief of the Greenport (L. I.), N. Y. fire department.