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115 Posts authored by: jrodowicz Employee

Today we look back at a historic fire incident that had a significant influence on modern firefighting tactics.

 

An aerial shot of the Blackwater Fire of 1937

 

The Blackwater Fire began with an electrical storm on August 18, 1937 near Blackwater Creek in Shoshone National Forest area of Wyoming. When the fire was first noticed, it looked like it only covered an area of two acres. However, at the would continue to grow and eventually cover roughly 1,700 acres and lead to the deaths of 15 firefighters.

 

Aerial description of the fire and diagrams of personnel movement

 

From the NFPA Quarterly vol.31, no.3 (1938):

“[Above is an] aerial view of Blackwater burn. Dash line indicates edge of fire when finally corralled. Dotted line shows fire line lost at time of tragedy. Right-hand arrow marks the place where 7 men were burned to death by a spot fire from below, which these men had just discovered when fires were whipped to fury by sudden wind. Left-hand arrow points to spot on ridge where crew of 40 men were overtaken by flames while climbing to safety above timber line. Most of the crew who stayed with their foremen at this point were painfully burned. Three died later. Four others who broke away died in the fire.”

 

The Blackwater Fire was the first fatality fire to have an in-depth investigation into the events immediately after the incident. The lasting impact from this tragedy is that the analysis of the event led to the smokejumper program.

 

The Wildland Fire Leadership Program has set up a detailed Staff Ride to the Blackwater Fire. The concept behind staff rides is “to put participants in the shoes of decision makers on a historical incident in order to learn for the future.” It allows participants to ask thoughtful questions not just about “what happened?” but also “What would I have done?”

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.


 The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
 Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

Boston's portable drill tower in 1938

 

From The NFPA Quarterly v.32, no.2, 1938:

What is believed to be the first large city portable drill tower designed for holding public exhibition drills in various parts of the city is shown above. The picture shows Boston firemen performing for the first time on the tower at a public exhibition held on historic Boston Common late in September and witnessed by approximately 10,000 people. The portable drill tower was the idea of Boston’s Fire Commissioner, William Arthur Reilly, and Fire Chief Samuel J. Pope as a novel and effective method of interesting the public in the work of the Boston Fire Department.

The portable drill tower, erected at various playgrounds and other public places throughout Boston during Fire Prevention Week, makes it possible for large numbers to witness fire department drill work. The tower is easily erected and dismantled and can be readily transported from place to place.

The purpose of the portable drill tower was to popularize the work of the fire department and increase the morale of the department.

 

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.

 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

an illustration of what a participant in cockroach racing might have looked like

During the summer of 1925, Mr. S.D. McComb, chairman of the NFPA Marine Committee shared a story that he had heard from a colleague “across the pond” regarding the possible hazards of a pastime once common aboard ships at sea in the mid-to-late 1800’s.

 

From The NFPA Quarterly v.19, no.1, 1925:

Referring to an article in a recent number of the Nautical Magazine about fires on board ship. The following, although not recent information, may interest you. It was told me by a man-of-war’s man about fifty years ago. My informant probably started his career at sea in the early sixties, and most likely in wooden ships. Here are his own words, as near as I can remember: “Us boys used to catch cockroaches, get some small pieces of candle, light them, tilt them a bit to let the grease run, then put them on the cockroaches’ backs, and have races.” He then naively added: “You must not get catched at it though.” I presume the bearers of the light would make for some secluded spot in the ship.

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.

 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

Happy Independence Day, America! Today we thought we would share one of NFPA’s public outreach posters from 40 years ago.

Did you know that each 4th of July, thousands of people, most often children and teens, are injured while using consumer fireworks?

According to NFPA, fireworks start an average of 18,500 fires per year, including 1,300 structure fires, 300 vehicle fires, and 16,900 outside and other fires.

In 2017, US hospital emergency rooms treated an estimated 12,900 people for fireworks related injuries; 54% of those injuries were to the extremities and 36% were to the head.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives. 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public. 

During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s master magician, Mark Wilson toured the United States with a jovial talking steam pump engine named Snuffy.

There were two versions of Snuffy used as part of the national radio and television tour promoting fire safety for children. Little Snuffy was designed and built by Doug Beswick and Carl Jablonski. He had moving headlights, a mouth, and a hat that “tipped.” It drove and did everything by remote control. Big Snuffy was created by John Gaughn, the master illusion builder, and was built on a golf cart chassis. The driver “magically” controlled it from inside the boiler.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives. 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public. 

Vendome

From Fire Command vol.39, no.9 (1972):

“On June 17, a four-alarm fire in the former Hotel Vendome became the worst tragedy in Boston Fire Department history when a portion of the building collapsed, killing nine fire fighters. The old hotel was being converted into apartments when the fire occurred.”

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives. 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public. 

On June 9th, 1946 a fire at the Canfield Hotel in Dubuque, Iowa captured national attention when 19 people died and 20 others were injured.

 

The Canfield Hotel consisted of two buildings: the original four story brick joisted section and the six story fire resistive annex that was built in 1925. The original building did not have a sprinkler system and had installed a wooden stairway to connect the original building to the three upper floors of the annex. The annex had a closed non-combustible stairwell with automatic fire doors that lead to an exit on the ground floor.

 

Guests accessed the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors of the annex from a sub-standard elevator or the open stairway from the first floor of the original building. Additionally, corridors between the original building to the annex continued across all floors but were protected with automatic fire doors. Guests accessed the fifth and sixth floors of the annex from an elevator.

 

The fire started in a small closet in the Red Lounge on the first floor of the hotel. Waitresses were instructed to put cigarette butts in paper napkins and place them in a paper trash can in the closet. At 12:10 am, four guests had gone to play the juke box and heard a crackling noise and smelled smoke, went to investigate, and discovered that the wall in the closet was on fire. The guests and the hotel manager tried to extinguish the fire with a wet towel and a fire extinguisher but their attempts were unsuccessful. The fire quickly spread to the combustible finish on the walls of the bar. Fifteen minutes after the fire began, the hotel manager tried to warn guests on the upper floors. The night clerk notified the fire department at 12:39 am. Many escaped by using the fire escape on the annex.

 

When the fire department arrived, the fire had encompassed the lounge and the lobby. The fire department did not have enough staff to simultaneously fight the fire and save lives so they made the decision that life-saving took priority over fighting the fire at the time. At 12:42 am, another alarm was sent out by police radio to call for additional help. Civilians, the police department, and National Guardsmen assisted the fire department. They were able to rescue 35 people using ladders and 27 people jumped into life nets. It took the fire department 2.5 hours with six pumping engines, an aerial, and two ladder companies to extinguish the fire.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.


The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

From The NFPA Quarterly v.43, no.1, 1949:

On Saturday afternoon, June 4, 1949, two employees under the direction of a foreman were unpacking goods in the Montgomery Ward warehouse in San Rafael, California, -- an innocuous operation from a fire hazard standpoint as long as somebody saw to it that the packing materials were properly disposed of. This foreman undertook to do when he detailed one of his men to burn the rubbish. Being new on the job and not having previously had the rubbish detail, the employee was instructed to proceed to the end of a certain corridor, go through a doorway and there he would find a place to burn. The employee was successful in “finding a place to burn”; when next he was seen racing back up the corridor closely pursued by a fast spreading fire that caused $350,000 damage before being controlled.

There were two doors at the end of the corridor, one to the outside where the incinerator was located, and the other a fire door to a paint spray room. As luck would have it, the latter was blocked open, so in he went, deposited the rubbish in a convenient metal enclosure with what looked like a smoke pipe in the back, and touched a match to it.

Fire apparatus arrived promptly in answer to an automatic alarm, but the unsprinklered one- and two-story wood frame structure was already beyond saving.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.


 The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
 Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

CQ CQ CQ…

This is KB1JOY. Welcome back for another installment of our Throwback Thursday blog!

As part of our National Electrical Safety Month coverage, the NFPA Research Library & Archives thought we would share a piece from the archives relating to Amateur Radio and introduce some of our readers to a popular hobby at the same time.

Amateur Radio enjoys a long and rich history. Over the years, Amateur Radio enthusiasts (or Hams) have made a number of significant contributions to their local communities and to the sciences. Today Amateur Radio (ham radio) is still a popular hobby that allows people to experiment with electronics and communications in a fun way.

“Although Amateur Radio operators get involved for many reasons, they all have in common a basic knowledge of radio technology and operating principles, and pass an examination for the FCC license to operate on radio frequencies known as the “Amateur Bands.” These bands are frequencies allocated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use by ham radio operators.”

We hope you enjoy the following story and image!

73.

KB1JOY.

ARRL_Home Radio_1922

From The NFPA Quarterly v.16, no.2, 1922:

The radio signaling apparatus in the home of Mr. Hiram Percy Maxim, Hartford, Conn. Mr. Maxim is president of the American Radio Relay League. Most amateur experimenters locate their station in their home, and inasmuch as they are unable to change the surroundings they must, to a certain extent at least, take things as they are. A careful study of the conditions will, however, often enable one to overcome and seeming handicap which may exist. This is just what Mr. Maxim has done. As a result, he has an efficient equipment without some of the unfortunate hazards which surround other amateur stations. Mr. Maxim made frequent grounds inside and outside of his home. He made at least twenty driven pipe grounds, running the ground conductor from the pipes to a water pipe outside of the foundation wall. Inside of the house, Mr. Maxim connected, electrically, all soil, gas, heating and other metal conductors by means of a copper bonding wire, and connecting this bonding wire to a water pipe, thus providing means for “draining” any static accumulation within his home.

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.


 The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
 Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

May is National Electrical Safety Month and we are excited to have the opportunity to share some of the safety messaging NFPA has distributed throughout its lengthy history.

 

 

This week we are have a classic public service advertisement from 1964 warning the public to pay attention to the electrical.  Sparky’s message may be and old one, but it is still a valid and important one.

According to NFPA’s latest Home Electrical Fires report, “Aging electrical systems in older homes can be a source of arc faults, either through normal wear and tear or because the systems cannot accommodate the greater demands of modern appliances. Circuits can also be overloaded by providing electricity to too many appliances, often through power cords.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives. 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public. 

One hundred years ago, a previously held belief that a dry-cell battery was practically non-hazardous and considered suitable for installing in dusty locations was disproved. During experimental work using six regular commercial type dry-cell batteries connected to each other in series, the batteries were inadvertently short-circuited and a peculiar fire hazard was discovered

Burning insulation on wiring of dry batteries after batteries were short-circuited.

 

 

From The NFPA Quarterly v.13, no.2, 1919:

There are three distinct phase of fire hazard introduced by dry-cell batteries of this type, any one of which might result in fire:

  • Are developed between carbon and wire or hot wire or molten copper igniting dust, inflammable vapors or combustible material;
  • Ignition of insulation;
  • Ignition of vapor due to volatilization of sealing compound by arc or heated wire.

The following is suggested:

  • Immediate inspection of all dry battery installations to make sure that all connections are in good condition and tightly secured;
  • Immediately remove such installations from locations where inflammable dust or vapors are or may be present;
  • Where facilities are available, top of carbon electrode might be covered with compound used for sealing batteries, leaving only copper connection or binding post exposed;
  • Enclosures containing dry cells of this type should be of metal, or have interior protected with asbestos.

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.


 The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.
 Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

Since May is National Electrical Safety Month, we thought we would look back at some of NFPA’s historic messaging. Pictured above is a classic public service advertisement from 1955 declaring the dangers of frayed electrical cords and overloaded wiring systems.

According to NFPA’s latest Home Electrical Fires report, “Aging electrical systems in older homes can be a source of arc faults, either through normal wear and tear or because the systems cannot accommodate the greater demands of modern appliances. Circuits can also be overloaded by providing electricity to too many appliances, often through power cords.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives. 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public. 

On April 25, 1935 multiple forest fires swept through the Deer Park area of Long Island, New York. Before firefighters were able to gain control, the largest blaze swept through 10,000 acres and destroyed the Abraham Golden pickle factory.

The image above shows an aerial view of the forest fire as it swept the area around Deer Park. The fire was first reported by fire warden James P. Larsen while he was stationed in the watchtower at Camp Upton, in Yaphank. Shortly before nightfall police picked up four young men for questioning regarding the origin of the fire. According to the officers, an empty gasoline canister was found in the vehicle the four young men were traveling in.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives. 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public. 

 

To stay up to date on news and information, sign up for NFPA Newsletters.

Late in the morning on Friday, April 20, 1928, three explosions shook the property at the Alexander Industries plant in Engelwood, Colorado. At least eleven people lost their lives due to this tragedy.

The cause of the explosions was undetermined at the time, but it was widely believed that the ignition source was from an electric motor that sparked while operating a ventilation fan and then set fire to a pan of silver nitrate in the paint shop. This shop was used as a “Dope Shed” where airplane wings would be coated with a nitro-cellulose compound called “dope”. Because of the highly flammable nature of the materials involved, the fire spread quickly and destroyed most of the complex.

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives. 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic. 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public. 

To stay up to date, sign up for NFPA Newsletters.

On April 10, 1935, the Massachusetts fire departments of Weymouth and Braintree were called upon to fight a large fire that swept over Weymouth Landing after a gas explosion early in the morning.

 

 

At the time of the incident, there had been a suspected gas leak. The manager of the store was heading to the basement to inspect the leak at about 1:30 A.M, when the blast occurred. Considerable confusion was caused in the surrounding streets by flooding and a fire soon broke out among the debris in the store. The blast also was credited with shattering the window glass of most of the surrounding buildings.

 

For more information regarding this and other moments in fire history, please feel free to reach out to the NFPA Research Library & Archives.

 

The NFPA Archives houses all of NFPA's publications, both current and historic.

 

Library staff are available to answer research questions from members and the general public.

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