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23 Posts authored by: maryelizabethwoodruff Employee

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In honor of Fire Prevention Week, our Throwback Thursday post is the original Sparky the Fire Dog observing the most widely used illustration of himself at the time, circa 1956.

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From the article on Motion Picture Production Hazards:  "An outdoor set built on an open stage ... Such construction near a studio building constitutes an exposure hazard. Note that the camera man is smoking."

 

From the NFPA Quarterly v. 15, no. 3, 1922

"The tremendous growth of the motion picture industry has been one of the commercial marvels of the past decade....

As has been the case with most new rapidly growing industries, there has been a period when the development of safeguards has not kept pace with the creation of new hazards...

While the film is regarded as the first hazard of the motion picture industry, the rapid development of large scale production has introduced other studio hazards which are treated in some detail in this article."

 

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The photo, taken at the height of the fire, shows the grain elevator where the fire started, and a nearby warehouse.  Both structures were destroyed.

 

From the NFPA Quarterly v. 16, no. 2, 1922

"Lightning hit Elevator "B" at about 5:30 P.M. A watchman was in the top of this elevator but he escaped injury and turned in a fire alarm immediately from an ADT box, at hand. The private fire brigade responded immediately, taking hose into the building. However, the fire spread so rapidly that the brigade could do nothing with the standpipe and hose in the building and were forced to use the spiral slide fire escapes to get out of the building. The city fire department responded quickly to the first alarm and a "third" alarm was sounded immediately on their arrival, quickly followed by a general alarm, bringing out all the companies in the city (51 engines), more than half of which were held at the fire. All five of the city fire boats and several tugs of various railroads, equipped with fire apparatus, responded. The fire spread rapidly and soon set fire to the warehouse on Pier 5 despite closed iron shutters, Pier 5 being west of Elevator "B" and wind being from the east. At that time streams were being directed on Elevator "C" from outside and also over the side of buildings from inside standpipes. Fire boats were in the slip between the two elevators. About 7:30 to 8:00 P.M. the wind suddenly shifted, due to another storm, and blew from north and west, and toward Elevator "C," setting that building on fire and causing fire boats to abandon their positions. The wind continuing from the north and west, embers and heat were carried to Pier 2, igniting that structure despite efforts to save it. Then wind again shifted to northeast, enabling firemen to save Pier 1 and Annex Pier 2. Twenty-eight standard hose streams were used on the plant water system, with pumps maintaining from 100 to 130 pounds. There was no break in the water lines, nothing went wrong with the pumps, the fire alarm system functioned, the plant fire brigade responded in minimum time, and altogether it would appear that the fire was fought as efficiently as possible, with all the protection, which was excellent, working properly."

 

 

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From the NFPA Quarterly v. 17, no. 4, 1924

"Forty-two men were killed and twenty-two were injured in this explosion of starch dust in a plant at Pekin, Illinois on January 3, 1924.  Rescue work, in process when this picture was taken, was handicapped by the low temperature, 20 below zero, on the morning following the explosion.  The force of the explosion is indicated by the ruins of the three-story brick building which formerly stood in the open space in the foreground."

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From the NFPA Quarterly v. 10, no.4, 1917

"Large spaces between partitions were used as ducts for pipes, vents, etc. and formed a flue of liberal size directly connecting the cellar with a large combustible attic.  The result was that when the fire occurred in the cellar it immediately communicated to the attic causing the roof to collapse, and involving heavy damage to the entire building with the exception of the masonry walls."

 

 

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From the NFPA Quarterly v. 11, no. 3, 1918

 

The photo above shows the damage to the Brown-Camp Hardware Store in Des Moines.  The Tone Brothers wholesale coffee house and spice mill located adjacent to the hardware store remained largely  intact with some damage to the party wall and some water damage in the basement.

 

 

 

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Friday September 2nd marks the 350th anniversary of the start of what is now known as the Great Fire of London.  The fire started early on the 2nd and after the fire was extinguished several days later, approximately 4/5 of the city was destroyed including 13,200 houses, 87 parish churches, The Royal Exchange, Guildhall and St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Czech artist Wencelaus Hollar was working on a map of the city before the fire and was involved in mapping the damage as a result of the conflagration.  The image above, from the original in the British Library, depicts the city before and after the fire.

 

 

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From the NFPA Quarterly v. 14, no. 1

Captain Stephen E. Sanislo of the Seattle Fire Department.  Captain Sanislo served in the Tank Corps in WWI, and upon his return from the war he served the department by providing fire protection education.  In the six months following his return from the war he instructed more than 43,000 schoolchildren and 12,000 adults.

 

 

 

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From the NFPA Quarterly v. 10, no. 3, 1917

 

"The use of a tenacious foam solution as a means of extinguishing oil fires has been brought to the attention of the oil producers in the country during the last two years.  The process consists essentially in mixing two chemical solutions, to produce a thick tenacious foam, containing bubbles of carbon dioxide, and in spreading this foam over the surface of the burning oil."

 

Tests of this foam extinguisher were conducted by igniting flammable liquids in the tank.  Foam was discharged onto the fire, gradually covering the surface and extinguishing the fire.  The elapsed time from the start of the fire to the time it was extinguished was just under four minutes.

 

 

 

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From the NFPA Quarterly v. 2, no. 1, 1908

"On Friday, May 8, 1908, Atlanta was visited by the worst conflagration in its history, excepting of course its destruction by fire during  the Civil War in 1864.  The monetary loss will amount to about one and one-quarter million dollars, while the insurance loss will probably be in the neighborhood of nine hundred thousand dollars.  Thirty different buildings were either destroyed or damaged.  No lives were lost.

 

The purpose of this report will be to describe as accurately as circumstances will allow, the conditions which made possible this conflagration, to give briefly a story of the fire and to point out the lessons it teaches. "

 

 

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From the NFPA Quarterly, v. 7, no. 1

“A contractor was clearing out and excavating an old vacant lot which had not been used since the fire of 1906.  The street was held back by an old brick retaining wall.  When he began excavating below this wall it caved in, allowing all the earth and pavement from the area wall back to the street care lines to fall into this excavation.  This left approximately 150 feet of 10 inch high pressure main suspended in the air and it naturally broke of its own weight.

 

The present practice is to cut off by means of gates at the corners, any block in which similar work is being done.  As the high pressure is a gridiron system, with gates at each corner, any block may be cut out without affecting the remainder of the system.

 

When this break occurred the large amount of water rushing out under a static pressure of 180 pounds carried away all other piping and conduits on that side of the street.

 

Approximately fifteen minutes elapsed form the time the break occurred to the time the water was shut off.  When it is considered this was the first accident the system has had, the work of the Fire Department appears to have been very credible.”

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The Cleveland Clinic Foundation was founded by several doctors in Cleveland, Ohio after the close of World War I.  The Foundation operated  out of multiple buildings in the area including a hospital and clinic.   The clinic building was used primarily for examination and diagnosis of patients, and also included staff offices, laboratories, a staff library, and the x-ray department.  One of the important diagnostic tools employed by the clinic was x-rays, which were stored in the basement.

 

Nitrocellulose film, used as x-ray film at the clinic, is flammable and when burned,  produces dangerous gases which are poisonous and explosive.  The film becomes unstable at high temperatures and can begin to decompose at temperatures near 300 degrees Fahrenheit.   By 1929, the hazards of nitrocellulose  film were known, and alternative "safety" cellulose acetate film was growing in use.  Guidance from NFPA was first published in 1925 for nitrocellulose film and x-ray storage and handling.  NFPA recommended safety measures at the time included vented storage and protection by automatic sprinklers.

 

At the clinic, the film was stored in the basement, in an old coal bin, and was not stored in compliance with NFPA guidance.   It is estimated that approximately 70,000 x-rays, weighing between 3 and 4 tons,  were stored in this room.  Running through the room, near the ceiling, were steam pipes.  Pendant lights were also located near the ceiling in the film storage room.  Both the steam pipes and the lights were sources of heat that should have been located a safer distance from the film storage.

 

The morning of May 15, a steamfitter reported to the clinic to fix a leak reported in the film room.  When he arrived, he attempted, but was unable to locate the leak.  He did make note that the room was overheated.  The steamfitter returned to the room several hours later to find the room filled with steam, and instructed that the steam supply be shut off.  When he returned again to the room about 20 minutes later, he saw a cloud of yellow smoke near the ceiling.  He attempted to extinguish a fire, but was unable, and as he made his way to exit the room, he was thrown through the door by  the first of two explosions.   He was able to get to a window by the time of the second explosion and was blown through the window.

 

Filmroom.JPGThe force of then two explosions pushed toxic gases from the fire through the pipe ducts and distributed fumes throughout the building.   Evidence of the spread of gas would later be found in almost every room in the clinic building, as it left a brown residue when it settled on cold surfaces.   The fire continued to burn in the film room (pictured at left, after the fire)  and an adjacent storage room causing fumes to spread vertically up the back staircase.  These ignited as they reached air, burning handrails and baseboards in the staircase.  Gases also began to collect in the building attic and approximately ten minutes after the first explosion, a final explosion occurred, collapsing the ceilings of many fourth floor rooms, and blowing out a main skylight in the building.

 

It is thought that approximately 225 people were in the building at the time of the fire.  Some staff were caught by surprise, and  found dead at their desks, while others attempted to exit the building, and collapsed, overcome by the fumes on their way to the exit.    One hundred twenty two people  died as a result of the fire at the clinic, and an additional 50 people were treated for exposure to the fumes.  It should be noted that none of the deaths or injuries were as a result of burns, and there was limited fire damage to the structure.  It is unknown what started the fire, but was determined that either the heat from a light, or the heat from the steam, could have achieved the temperatures needed to start the decomposition of the nitrocellulose film. It is also of note that within a few years of this incident, nitrate film would be phased out for use in x-rays, being replaced with more stable "safety" cellulose acetate film.

 

The Charles S. Morgan Library supports the research activities and maintains the archive of NFPA.  We have copies of the NFPA pamphlet on the Cleveland Clinic Fire, and the Report on the Cleveland Clinic Fire by the NBFU and the Ohio Inspection Bureau.  Learn more about the Library and Archives, our resources, and services.

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On March 18, 1937, the London, Texas Consolidated High School suffered a tragedy due to an explosion that killed 294 students and teachers.  H. Oram Smith of the Texas Inspection Bureau was involved in the investigation and his account of the disaster was published in the NFPA Quarterly.  He described that the "blast occurred with the suddenness characteristic of such explosions although with some unusual features.  Every witness agreed that there was but one explosion and that it was a low rumbling noise, with none of the blast or roar that might be expected."  He went on to explain that the total destruction in the blast area was evidence of great force with the description of a car, located 200 feet from the blast, "crushed like an eggshell" under the slab of concrete propelled from the building.

 

It is thought that the explosion was caused by a gas in an improperly vented space underneath the floor.  One of the students who survived noted that a teacher was in the act of plugging in a power tool at the time when the explosion took place.

 

The casualties were great, with 294 fatalities and at least 39 serious injuries. Remarkably, three boys who were at the far end of the room where the explosion occurred were blown into the rear addition of the school, surviving with only minor injuries.

 

The Charles S. Morgan Library supports the research activities and maintains the archive of NFPA.  In the Library we have copies of NFPA publications including the NFPA Quarterly, published from 1907-1964.  Learn more about the Library and Archives, our resources, and services.

The British Fire Prevention Committee, founded in 1897, was established with the goal "to direct attention to the urgent need for increased protection of life and property from fire by the adoption of preventative measures." Another objective of the committee was "to publish from time to time papers specially prepared for the Committee, together with records, extracts, and translations." Reports and records prepared include essays such as What is Fire Protection or updates on construction methods: "Fire-Resisting" Floors used in London, or reports on key fires.   The papers and records were published in pamphlets with red covers, and are more commonly known as the Red Books.

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Red Book, no. 202, published one hundred years ago, covered a report on the fire at the Bon Marché (Annexe) in Paris, that occurred on November 22, 1915. At that time, the Bon Marché was a grand department store in the heart of Paris.   It was known for the collections of art and antique furniture offered for sale in the department store in addition to house goods, garden tools, toys, and gloves - they were known throughout the world for their gloves. A 1912 issue of Business, a magazine for office store and factory, stated that they sold more than one million pairs of gloves per year.

 

The annex of the Bon Marché was a large building, constructed in 1899 with a stone facade and an interior of metal work.   Interior walls were constructed of brick and of wood and plaster.  The interior floors formed galleries surrounding two central halls.   The roof consisted of framed metal work with a large portion of the roof over the central halls that was glazed. The Annex was connected to the main building via an underground passage.

 

Inside the annex there were basements and sub-basements for receiving and storage. The ground floor contained tapestries, china and works of art. Upper floors contained furnishing materials, carpets, furniture, bedding, and stocks of linen.   As part of the war effort the 5th and 6th floors had been converted from store use and used respectively as a temporary 130 bed hospital for wounded soldiers, and hospital administrative area. Prior to the devastating fire, there had been concerns of the open nature of the building, and precautions were made to enclose staircases and lifts leading to the hospital occupied areas.

 

The fire broke out near midnight the night of November 22nd, 1915. It started in the sub-basement and was contained for several hours to the basement levels. Fortunately, the evacuation of patients from the 5th floor hospital was conducted quickly and effectively. Although the fire was initially contained to the basement areas, smoke spread quickly throughout the building. After several hours, the fire spread throughout the building. By 8:00 am, the fire was under control, having been confined to the annex and not spreading to other buildings in the neighborhood.   There was no loss of life but the damage to the building and the goods was estimated at the time to be more than five million dollars.  The image above depicts the wreckage of the roof over the smaller of the two halls.

 

6a00d8351b9f3453ef01b7c805d438970b-100wi.jpgThe introduction to this report includes a forward comparing building regulations in London and Paris and is a valuable tool for historic building code researchers.

 

The Charles S. Morgan Technical library supports the research activities and maintains the archive of NFPA. We have a collection of the Red Books from The British Fire Prevention Committee as well as other materials on historic fires. Learn more about the Library and Archives, our resources, and services.


Ninety one years ago this month, Jersey City was struck by 2 large fires in the short span of just 3 days. One fire destroyed nearly 2 entire blocks and caused approximately $1 million in damage, the second fire burned 2 piers, 15 vessels and caused at least $300,000 of losses. JerseyCity1

The first fire started the morning of Friday November 14, 1924 in the Battelle and Renwick saltpeter works.  The actual cause of the fire is unknown, but it is known to have begun in the cellar of the plant. Workers did attempt to extinguish the flames but, hastily retreated. The building had been used as a saltpeter plant for more than 20 years.  Saltpeter is a form of potassium nitrate which was commonly used in the manufacture of fireworks, gunpowder, or fertilizer. It is thought that the floors and timbers were dry and the residue of chemicals contained in the wood, coupled with a strong NW wind blowing in the direction of the basement opening, fanned the flames and allowed the fire to grow quickly.

The entire force of the Jersey City fire department was called out to fight the fire. The force included 350 men, 16 pumping engines, 2 steamers and 4 truck companies. Additionally 2 fire boats from New York, the John Purroy Mitchel and the New Yorker responded to the call and provided aid in fighting the fire from the waterfront. Tugs from Lehigh Valley and Central Railroad of New Jersey also aided. At the same time, the fire departments of Hoboken and Newark covered for the Jersey City fire stations left vacant.    

Fanned by a strong wind, the fire spread quickly to other industrial properties in the area, as well as to several tenement buildings. By 3:00 pm, just 6 hours after the start, the fire was under control. Eight tenements were burned in entirety, with many others evacuated temporarily due to smoke and chemical fumes.   Although many people lost their homes, there were no fatalities.   At least 30 nurses were on hand to assist surgeons attending to injuries from burns, falling debris and chemical fumes. The Red Cross attended to residents displaced by the fires, and the Armory was used as a temporary refuge.

Early reports stated that dynamite was used to take down structures in advance of the flames however, these reports were erroneous. During the first hour of the fire, explosions occurred in the saltpeter factory, sending bricks and other debris in all directions, and these explosions, felt several blocks away, were mistaken for intentional demolition.  

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Three days later, and just 20 blocks away, a second fire began in the Erie cooperage pier (no. 5). It quickly leaped to pier no. 6 lighting several barges and tugs which were moored between the piers. Once again the entire Jersey City fire department turned out to fight the fire. Also like the earlier fire, the John Purroy Mitchel and the New Yorker and a third fire boat, the Thomas Willett, all from New York, rendered aid. The barges and tugs moored between the piers were towed to mid-river where the fires were extinguished.   The Erie passenger station, the railroad post office, and several other buildings of economic importance to the city lay in the path of the fire. The Jersey City fire department focused efforts on saving these buildings with great success, only the roof of one of the buildings caught fire but was soon extinguished.

Although the dollar loss was high, fortunately there were no fatalities in either fire, however a total of fifteen firemen were injured. An article from Fire and Water Engineering compliments the efforts of the fire department: "Much favorable comment was made on the work of the Jersey City fire department in handling these two large fires and especially in the saving of the railroad and express company's properties in the second fire, considering the fact that the men were complexly worn out from their grueling experience in the first blaze and hardly had time to get their breath when the second alarm sounded."

The Charles S. Morgan Library supports the research activities and maintains the archive of NFPA.   We have resources including "The Jersey City Conflagration", NFPA Quarterly, V. 18, No. 3, P. 269-275; the article "One Large Fire Follows Another in Jersey City", Fire and Water Engineering, November 26, 1924, p. 1167-1168 as well as photos by T.K. Flannagan (shown above).  Learn more about the Library and Archives, our resources, and services.

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