Popular Science Monthly/Volume 47/September 1895/The Development of American Industries Since Columbus: Fire Fighting II

Popular Science Monthly Volume 47 September 1895 (1895)
The Development of American Industries Since Columbus: Fire Fighting II by John G. Morse
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1228764Popular Science Monthly Volume 47 September 1895 — The Development of American Industries Since Columbus: Fire Fighting II1895John G. Morse





ONE of the most important modern additions to fire-fighting apparatus is the water tower. This invention has so greatly aided in flooding out fires that it will be no exaggeration to say that the date of its introduction marks another era in the history of fire-fighting in this country. Quite appropriately, in the centennial year, 1876, Mr. John Logan, a machinist in the employ of Mr. Abner Greenleaf, of Baltimore, invented a contrivance that was encumbered with the long name of "a portable standpipe fire-extinguishing apparatus." For convenience this term has been shortened to "water tower." Mr. Greenleaf was so sure of the future usefulness of the invention that he immediately made a full-sized machine which was completed in 1879. The apparatus consisted of a firmly built crane-neck truck, in the center of which rested a length of pipe supported on a pair of trunnions. Two more sections of pipe that could be coupled to the first section were carried detached. The three sections measured fifty feet when at full length and were braced with wire ropes. By turning a hand-screw at the back, the trunnions revolved and the pipe assumed an upright position. The nozzle at the top was controlled by guide ropes, and as the pipe was raised the lower end swung under the truck and could be connected to one, two, or three steam fire engines.

The great advantage claimed was that a powerful stream could be directed at short range on a fire in the upper stories of a building when a stream from the ground would spray and strike the ceiling, and when the heat would prevent a fireman from directing a stream from the top of a ladder. The later development and use of the water tower has proved this claim to be well founded. If the buildings opposite a fire are ignited, one sweep of the water-tower stream will be of more avail than several streams from the ground. Many other advantages could be named. The first water tower was put on trial in the New York Fire Department, and was so successful that it was purchased by the authorities. Firemen generally were greatly pleased, and the press lauded the inventor in praiseworthy terms. The Fireman's Journal of September 4, 1880, alluded to the water tower as follows:

"This apparatus is really the only absolutely new appliance for fire extinguishment that has been invented since the steam fire engine was introduced. There have been improvements in engines, ladders, hose, and rolling stock of all kinds, but of new inventions, original in all respects and of practical utility, there have been none for over twenty years."

Other towers were built for different cities, Boston buying one in 1882 that was destroyed in the great fire of Thanksgiving day, 1889. A few years later Messrs. Ashworth and Petrie, of the Chicago Fire Department, had built in the repair shops a telescoping brass tower of similar description, which is in use to-day in the Chicago Department. In 1888 Chief Hale, of the Kansas City Fire Department, invented a water tower that practically replaced

Fig. 13.—Greenleaf Water Tower.

the Greenleaf. The Kansas City Fire Department Supply Company took up the manufacture of the new machine. Two telescoping square steel shafts rest on trunnions at the forward end of the truck and a chemical engine takes the place of a hand-screw in raising the tower into position. The inner shaft, lined with hose, is raised by cable and pulleys, drawing after it a length of hose that is already attached to receiving nozzles at the base. The delivery nozzle is under perfect control by the aid of guide ropes. The tower is made in different sizes, varying from thirty to sixty feet in height.

In 1893 the Fire Extinguisher Manufacturing Company, of Chicago, placed on the market the Champion water tower, that differs essentially from the Hale tower. This was the invention of their superintendent, Mr. E. Steck, who has done much important work in the way of ladder trucks, chemical engines, and other fire appliances. Hand power replaces the chemical engine in raising, and the shape of the truck brings the base of the telescopic pipe much nearer the ground, enabling the men in charge to stand on terra firma. Two jacks act as adjustable legs to add steadiness Fig. 14.—Hale Water Tower. while in action. The water connection is made by means of a three or four way Siamese coupling that rests on the ground, thus giving a free course to the stream. This tower can be raised to a much greater height than could previous towers. The above-mentioned company has recently purchased all the Hale patents, and now virtually controls the building of water towers in this country. Every large department in the United States is equipped with one or more towers, and the smaller cities are rapidly following the example. The Davol tower is a very useful contrivance manufactured by the Cornelius Callahan Company, of Boston. It is a curved nozzle attached to a flexible pipe, and can be placed on the upper rungs of an extension ladder. A guide rope enables a fireman to direct the stream from the ground. Recent tests have shown that a great deal of force is lost in a stream from the water tower on account of the friction, and there is still much for

room improvement in this piece of apparatus. The small hose reels adopted in the early part of the century were the forerunners of the large and gayly decorated four-wheeled reels used by the volunteer hose companies. After the

Fig 15.—Champion Water Tower.

introduction of steam fire engines two and four wheeled reels, drawn by horses, were used as tenders. These have been replaced to a great extent by the modern hose wagon. It is claimed that hose can be drawn from flat coils in a wagon with greater rapidity than from a reel, and when once the hose is out the wagon can be used as an ambulance or to bring supplies. It will be impossible to give the names of the manufacturers of hose reels and wagons, for not only are innumerable firms engaged in the business, but often the apparatus is furnished by local carriage builders. All the makers of steam and hand fire engines and ladder trucks manufacture hose wagons and carriages of every variety.

For many years the only hose generally used was made of leather, but to-day this has been practically replaced by either

Fig. 16.—Hand Hose Carriage.

rubber or fabric. Samuel Eastman & Company, East Concord, N. H., make a specially tanned leather hose that is riveted together in such a manner that the friction is reduced to a minimum. The nature of the material makes it possible to place permanent leather straps at frequent intervals, thereby aiding the firemen in handling.

Rubber hose is made by combining fabric with solid rubber. In heavy hose an inner lining of rubber is combined with light cotton, and an outside lining is combined with heavier cotton. These two are firmly cemented together with the laps on opposite sides. It has been seen that fabric hose was invented in Holland in 1672, but generally discarded as being impracticable. The early canvas hose of this century was made of sail cloth riveted together, and was never very successful. The jacket hose of today is woven seamless and lined with rubber. Another seamless jacket is pulled over this, and as many more as may be desired, the heaviest hose being four or five ply. The fabric is treated with chemicals that it may be rot-proof, and the rubber lining is either made by cementing in a sheet of rubber, thereby making one long seam the length of the hose, or by a patented process, in making a seamless lining from melted rubber. The number of companies in the United States engaged either wholly or partly in the manufacture of rubber or fabric fire hose is too numerous to mention.

Fire hose must not only stand the heavy pressure of the powerful streams, but it must not be affected by the wear and tear of being drawn over rough pavements and around various corners while the heavy pressure is on. It must not absorb so much water

Fig. 17.—Hose Wagon.

from the outside that it becomes too heavy to handle, nor should it be of a nature to allow mud to adhere to its surface. The interior lining must be absolutely smooth, as the slightest friction materially affects the force of the stream. Fire hose has to be washed in a washing machine, and then dried by hanging in hose towers, after every fire, otherwise the length of its life would be greatly lessened.

Suction hose is of large diameter. It is made of heavy rubber, and wound either inside or out with round or flat wire to give it strength. When water is drawn from a hydrant the suction hose is coupled to an opening of its size, but a large strainer is always carried to use when taking water from the harbor, lakes, etc.

There are a great many different hose couplings in use, both screw and snap. The Rhode Island Coupling Company, of Providence, and many other firms engaged in the manufacture of other apparatus, furnish the screw couplings. The National Coupling Company, of Pomona, Cal., has introduced a very serviceable snap coupling that fastens with a catch, needing no screw. The representative firemen of this country have tried for many years Fig. 18.—Perfection Nozzle-Holder. to adopt a universal coupling, as a difference in screw threads often causes serious delays. Owing to the enormous expense that would be incurred in changing every department to one standard, the efforts in that direction have so far been unsuccessful.

The Siamese coupling is a very simple contrivance that has one large opening on one side, and two, three, or four smaller openings on the other. By use of this, several fire streams can be converted into one powerful body of water. In some cases these couplings are provided with valves so that one or more of the different lines of hose can be shut off if necessary. The Siamese coupling has been referred to in connection with the Champion water tower. A reducing coupling is also made by which a hose of large diameter can be coupled to a smaller line, and thus prevent water damage at an incipient fire.

Hose nozzles have been varied to suit about every requirement of the firemen. The outlets of the ordinary nozzles vary, being in some cases a smooth bore, and in others lessened in size by a ring. Fig. 19.—Section of Nozzle showing Ring. The larger nozzles are sometimes provided with an inner tube that will make a division in the stream, and therefore tend to close the stream on itself and prevent spraying. In some cases the nozzle is divided into sections to destroy the revolving motion of the stream, and one nozzle is made with a small hollow tube in the center. The stream having an air space, closes upon it and hangs together for a longer time. The solid body of the nozzle is generally wound with cord to give better holding surface, and again the solid body is replaced by a flexible pipe made of cotton-lined rubber wound with wire. This device enables the fireman to change the direction of the pipe when at close quarters. Spray and shut-off nozzles are used that can instantly reduce the size of the stream or change it into a fine spray. The ball nozzle is one of the latest inventions in this direction. A funnel-shaped opening contains a ball that, when not in use, is held in place by a light staple. When the stream is playing, however, the ball is forced into the opening by outside pressure and an extensive spray is the result. The cellar pipe is a modification of an ordinary nozzle. Being bent and in some cases formed in the shape of a letter S, it can be thrust through the floor and the stream easily delivered in any direction. A similar contrivance is used to extinguish a blaze between the ceiling and roof of a flat-roofed building. The distributing nozzle consists of a metal globe provided with several nozzlelike outlets. This globe is attached to the end of a line of hose, and the force of the stream causes it to revolve and distribute a number of small powerful streams in every direction. This is especially efficient when hung in a subbasement that is filled with smoke. There are also small sprinkling nozzles used to clear a smoky room.

The enormous force of a fire stream renders it a difficult matter to retain control, and many are the accidents reported of firemen who have been disabled by failing to hold the nozzle. The Perfection nozzle holder, manufactured by Samuel Eastman & Company, of East Concord, N. H., is composed of two bars between which the nozzle lies securely strapped. Two handles are on each side, and a removable bar is carried, that can be let down to the ground as a brace. An inner ring at the end of the nozzle, called the Hopkins patent, destroys the twisting tendency, and the ground brace carries off; any electric current with which the stream may come in contact. One man can safely direct a stream that ordinarily would require two or three to hold it.

Breaks in hose are mended by strapping a prepared sleeve to the injured part, or inserting a convex brass plate under the break and clamping to it a corresponding concave plate from the outside. To facilitate pulling hose up a ladder, through a window, or over the edge of a roof, a simple hook-shaped frame, provided with rollers, called the Bresnan hose hoist, is used.

The absolute shut-off nozzles can not be used without bursting the hose, unless the engine or hydrant is provided with an automatic relief valve that will open and allow the water to run back into the suction pipe. The valve can be regulated to suit the pressure that the hose will stand. During the sixties several valves were tried, the first very successful one being that invented

Fig. 20.—Ordinary Ladder Truck

by Mr. Alvarado Mayer, a member of the Detroit Fire Department, in 1809. Mr. L. D. Shaw, of Boston, also introduced a successful valve in 1874. Since then there have been a number of different valves in use. Mr. Cornelius Callahan, of Canton, Mass., perfecting one in the neighborhood of 1888. These three are about the only ones in general use to-day.

It has been seen that the first ladder trucks were introduced at the beginning of this century, and the patterns then adopted have been followed more or less to the present day. Portable escapes were invented by the score, some in the form of extension ladders, others as lazy tongs, and others in the form of cranes, by which a bucket could be raised and lowered. None of these came into general use, because they had not reached a stage of development at which apparatus of that nature could be made light and strong enough to be practicable. The ordinary ladder truck consists of a long frame, with crossbars at different heights provided with rollers. These are equipped with several ladders of different lengths, and an extension ladder. The latter is a combination of ladders that slide over each other by means of a chain and pulley. The whole length is rested against a building, and the center is supported by props. The Bangor Extension Ladder Company and several others make ladders of this kind. The Gleason & Bailey Manufacturing Company, the Stewarts, C. T. Holloway, Seagrave & Company, P. J. Cooney, and some of the engine-makers, manufacture ladder trucks that differ simply in minor details too numerous to describe.

The aërial truck consists chiefly of an extension ladder that rests on trunnions on a turntable at the forward end of the truck. The extension ladder is raised in much the same manner as is the water tower, and when erect is capable of supporting itself with several working firemen without resting against a building. The Hayes, the Gleason & Bailey, the Arrow, and the Babcock are among those well known. The aërial trucks carry a full complement of ladders.

The largest ladder trucks are provided with a steering wheel over the rear axle to facilitate the turning of corners, and Mr. Steck, of Chicago, has invented a depressed rear axle which lends stability to the truck, while a lever in place of a steering wheel directs the rear wheels.

In addition to the regular ladders, a variety of apparatus is carried on every truck. The axes, or hooks as they are called, are too well known to need description. In olden times large, heavy hooks were used to tear down buildings, but these have since been abandoned. It is interesting to note in this connection that as late as 1857 the Scientific American published an illustration of an enormous hook mounted on wheels. The hook was intended to be attached to a house and pulled by a crowd of men until the house collapsed. Probably a hook of this nature was never used. The firemen of to-day extinguish a fire instead of being content to stop it within certain boundaries, unless an extensive conflagration renders it necessary to raze buildings by dynamite. The hooks of to-day are used to cut through into a hidden fire, and for other purposes of like nature.

The pompier or scaling ladder is a most necessary article, and is used in connection with the distinct pompier service. Christ Hoell, of St. Louis, who had served in European pompier companies, believed that the system could be advantageously introduced into this country. In 1877 he formed a volunteer company Fig. 21.—Aërial Truck. in St. Louis, and drilled the men in the use of the apparatus connected with the system. The members of the city government were so pleased with the exhibition given by this volunteer company that the system was introduced into the fire department, under Chief Engineer Sexton, in December of the same year. Since then the pompier service has found its way into all large departments, and many cities support training schools that every fireman may be thoroughly drilled. The pompier ladder is made of one pole, from twelve to eighteen feet long, provided with cross-rungs. At one end an iron hook projects at right angles from two to three feet. By the aid of this ladder one man can scale the side of a building by putting the hook over a window-sill above, climbing the ladder, and repeating the operation. If flames are coming from the window directly above, the window at the side is used, and the fireman has to swing into position by the aid of his ladder. Two men with two ladders can climb together much more speedily, as they take turns in steadying each other's ladders. The pompier fireman wears a belt, in the front of which is a snap-hook. He also carries a hatchet and a coil of rope one hundred feet long. By fastening the rope to some convenient point, and taking two turns round the snap-hook, he can descend rapidly and safely. If carrying a person with him, another turn of rope is taken round the hook. A long canvas chute is sometimes carried, through which inmates of a burning building can slide to the ground.

The "grip-sack," or what is more generally called the life net,

Fig. 22.—Scaling a Building with Pompier Ladders.

is a piece of leather-bound canvas, ten feet square. Handles along the sides enable a group of firemen to hold the net taut to catch any one who may jump from above. The life net did not originate in this country with the pompier service. Canvas nets have been in use for some time, and at the present day their place is being taken by circular rope nets that are more yielding. Being formed in a circle, each man obtains a direct pull from the center. The Hunter net is composed of a spiral of rope, and the Empire net is made of concentric circles of rope, the ropes in each case being supported with radial lines. It is a most difficult matter to hold a life net securely and receive the shock of a falling body. When a man has jumped from an upper story, possibly sixty feet above the street, and his helpless body suddenly emerges from a cloud of smoke and flame that is pouring from lower windows, the firemen must instantly have the net directly under him and then brace themselves to receive the shock. The pompier ladders, etc., are also often carried on hose wagons, that every chance may be given to put them in use at the earliest moment.

There are several other articles carried on ladder trucks. The life gun or life pistol is used to shoot a slug or arrow, to which is attached a loosely coiled rope, over the roof of a building. The inmates can then pull up a stronger rope and descend to the ground. There are also short roof ladders with hooks to cling over the ridge-pole, and some departments carry a tripod ladder that may be stood under an electric wire, where a fireman with insulated shears can remove the dangerous obstruction. This ladder is the invention of Captain Griffin, of the Boston Fire Department. The ram, a heavy battering pole worked by three or more men, held a place in departments for a long time, and was used to batter down doors, etc. This is being replaced to a great extent by the Detroit door opener, a simple prying device which rips the entire lock out of place or the door off its hinges in a shorter space of time than that in which the same could be battered down. Ladder trucks are also provided with chemical extinguishers, rubber blankets, medicines for burns, and several sundries.

Although the protective departments had a forerunner in some of the early fire companies whose members carried canvas bags to be used in saving property, the insurance companies did not introduce their patrols or salvage corps for several years later. Some of the insurance companies of New York in 1839 organized a corps of bagmen, who saved what they could of endangered property. Later a two-wheeled hand wagon, supplied with half a dozen rubber covers, was put in service. Later a permanent station, equipped with a four-wheeled wagon, drawn by horses, was established. To-day there are several stations with nine wagons and a Silsby steam fire engine, which latter is used to pump out cellars. In Boston, as early as 1849, the insurance firm of Dobson & Jordan employed some men to carry bags holding oil covers. In 1858 these were carried on Ladder No. 1. In 1868 an old milk wagon was purchased by the insurance companies and filled with covers, brooms, shovels, etc. A regular protective department was established in 1870. The insurance companies in all large cities now support protective departments, and in some places an effort is now on foot to merge them into the regular fire departments.

All departments are equipped with supply wagons that resemble hose wagons in their construction and carry baskets of coal, extra hose, etc., to every fire. In 1879 the New York department built a wrecking truck. The Boston department built

Fig. 23.—Wrecking Trick.

a similar truck in 1893. So far as learned, these are the only distinct wrecking trucks in use. The truck is long and low and supplied with a variety of tools for making repairs on apparatus at a fire. An extra wheel, hose, nozzles, etc., are also carried. On one side of the truck is a vise, and on the other a chemical extinguisher.

In 1883 the New York City Department tried the experiment of building a five thousand gallon tank, mounting it on wheels and drawing it to some place between the water front and a fire, that the fire-boats might pump into it and the engines draw therefrom. The apparatus proved unsuccessful, however, and has been abandoned.

The wheels used on fire apparatus have to be of unusual strength to stand the heavy weights, great speed over rough pavements, slewing in car tracks, and other strains that would demolish ordinary wheels. In the Archibald wheel the tire, spokes, and hub are put together under heavy pressure. The hub is of malleable iron, from which a flange extends on the inner side of the wheel. An outer removable flange is bolted through the spokes to the inner flange. The Sarven wheel has a wooden hub with an outer and inner flange that are pressed into position and then bolted through the spokes. The Warner wheel has a wooden hub upon which is shrunk a solid metal band with openings to receive the spokes. The spokes are driven through the openings into mortises cut in the hubs to receive them. The Archibald wheel is made by a company of that name in Lawrence, Mass. The Sarven and Warner, and some other wheels not described, are made by several different firms.

A distinct feature of American fire apparatus is the swinging harness, which is too well known to need description. There are several kinds in use, and much conflicting testimony uttered in regard to their priority. In a decision rendered by the United States Circuit Court, sitting at Kansas City, Mo., it was stated that swinging harness was used as early as 1843 by Dr. B. F. Whitney, of Loudonville, Ohio; in 1871, by the fire departments of Allegheny City, Pa., and St. Joseph, Mo., and by the Hughes Brewery, Cleveland, Ohio; and in 1872, by the Louisville (Ky.) Fire Department. The writer is informed by Major Edward Hughes, chief of the Louisville department, that Mr. Thomas Pendegrast, a member of that department, invented the first harness used there. Mr. Edward O. Sullivan invented a swinging harness in 1875, which was first manufactured by the Worswick Manufacturing Company, and also by Isaac Kidd, of Cleveland. In 1880, Mr. Charles E. Berry, of Cambridge, Mass., invented a harness which he still manufactures; and in 1885, Chief George C. Hale, of the Kansas City Fire Department, invented a harness that is now manufactured by the Fire Department Supply Company of that city. The sliding pole, by which firemen facilitate their descent from the second story of the engine house, was invented by Captain B. F. Bache, of the Louisville Fire Department. In nearly all engine houses the steamers are kept connected with boilers, and an automatic lighter kindles the fire as the engine starts in response to an alarm.

When it was first found necessary to have some warning signals upon fire apparatus, tinkling bells were used, and in many cases a fireman would run ahead, blowing a bugle. The introduction of horse cars made bells so universal in our streets that clanging gongs were substituted in their place on apparatus. The cable and trolley cars of to-day being exclusively provided with gongs, in many instances the fire officials have returned to the use of tinkling bells, although the bugle is still used.

The use of sail cars, introduced in Salem, Mass., and vicinity in 1774, was continued as late as 1843. The Scientific American of 1857 illustrates a truck carrying a roll of sheet iron that can be raised to form a screen; and in 1872 another is pictured composed of plates that can be raised one above another. The modern high buildings make such apparatus useless at the present time.

The numerous hand pumps would not receive notice here, were it not for the fact that one of them has been incorporated into a regular fire department. The Johnson pump, made by the National Manufacturing Company of Boston, is composed of a vertical cylinder and piston, provided with an air chamber. A short piece of hose that can be held in the hand is attached near the top. The pump is placed in a pail of water, and an adjustable clamp enables the operator to steady both pail and pump. Mr. Joseph Bird, in his interesting book entitled Protection against Fire, emphatically advocates the extended use of this pump, in addition to the existing apparatus. The experiment has been tried in Wakefield, Mass., with gratifying results. Almost a hundred of these pumps are owned by the town authorities and distributed in easily accessible places over the town. Every year a majority of the fires are quenched in their incipiency by some citizen with the aid of one of the pumps, and the steam fire engine is therefore seldom called upon to answer an alarm where a moment's delay might result in a large fire. The United States Government uses these pumps for the same purpose in armories, etc.

Some experiments have been made in the way of running an electric wire with each line of hose, that a fireman with a telegraph key or push-button at the nozzle may notify the engineer by telegraph or prearranged bell signals when to turn the water on and off, when help is needed, etc. The idea is a good one, but as yet has not been entirely perfected, as in dragging a line of hose through a burning building the wire may become broken at a critical moment when it is most needed.

Bicycles are being introduced in some European departments to enable the men to reach the fires as soon as possible. In some cases small chemical extinguishers are attached. As yet very little has been done in this line in America. The hose wagons and ladder trucks so well accommodate the men that the need of bicycles has not been greatly felt.

It does not come within the scope of this article to mention the fire-alarm telegraph, the stationary fire equipment of buildings, fire escapes, etc. It is also hardly necessary to mention the numerous lanterns, trumpets, uniforms, and other objects of like nature. The historical data at the beginning of the article are doubtless incomplete, for historians generally give very little attention to the primitive methods that were so long in use in every city. The American fireman is to-day equipped with the finest apparatus in the world for extinguishing fires and. saving life, but he is badly handicapped by the town and city governments on every hand, who will not modify loose building laws or strengthen slight fire restrictions.[1]

  1. In compiling the data for this article the writer wishes to acknowledge the services rendered by all the manufacturers of fire apparatus, especially the American Eire Engine Company, the La France Fire Engine Company, S. F. Hayward & Company, and the Gleason & Bailey Manufacturing Company. Also the personal assistance of the chiefs of the Bangor, Boston, Hartford, New York, and Louisville Fire Departments; Mr. James R. Newhall, the Lynn historian; Mr. Arthur W. Brayley, author of the History of the Boston Fire Department; Mr. Albert C. Winsor, Secretary of the Providence Veteran Fire Association; Mr. Amos Perry, Secretary of the Rhode Island Historical Society; Mr. A. D. Nickerson, Pawtucket; Mr. William Cowles, of the Cowles Engineering Company; Mr. Talcott Williams, of the Philadelphia Press; Mr. Abner Greenleaf, of Baltimore; and Mr. E. Steck, Superintendent of the Fire Extinguisher Manufacturing Company, of Chicago.