Letter From Fire Chief, 1914

From the March 5?, 1914 edition of the Raleigh Times, in response to reporting and editorial criticism comments regarding the Jenkins Memorial Church fire on March 3, 1914
To the Editor of THE TIMES:

I have read your editorial and news item in which the fire department came in for a bit of criticism regarding the fire which destroyed the Jenkins Memorial church on the night of March 3rd.  Of course I regret very much that this church was destroyed, but the fire department has no apologies or excuses to make to anyone  What we did at that fire, and the manner in which we responded is everything that could have been done by this department or any other department so situated.

When an alarm came in over the telephone, notwithstanding the fact that box 333 had just three minutes before been turned in for a small blaze in a dwelling house, the fire department had two complete companies hitched and ready to respond to any other alarm.  When we received the Glenwood alarm on the phone at that same instant a telegraph alarm from box 424 was received.  This called these two companies to Jenkins Memorial church.  I drove the first company to the fire and the biggest pair of horses that we have found that it was all they could do to reach the fire.  This company traveled over a mile through the worst streets in the city of RALEIGH and was stretching hose into the church inside of five minutes from the time we received the alarm.  There was only one hydrant that could possibly have been used in fight a fire in this church.  This was immediately connected and two streams played on the fire at the most advantageous points.  Had there been ten companies on the scene nothing else could have been done until the arrival of the steamer.  The second company to respond was immediately sent back for the steamer.  This was done, notwithstanding the fact that there is only one pumping engine in the equipment of the department and the fire was more than a mile from the business district of the city, and the engine would have to be moved back into this district had a fire occurred there.

You state that a half an hour was consumed getting the steamer in operation.  To be exact, it required twenty-seven minutes.  This steamer weighs 6,900 pounds and without having to call out the company which was protecting RALEIGH while this fire was going on we had two horses who had made the run from headquarters station and one auto truck.  The auto truck was sent first to get the steamer and had a purely mechanical accident, which is the first accident that either machine has received during one-hundred and thirty-eight runs, and this accident would not have incapacitated the machine or ordinary streets.  Immediately after Chief Farmer saw that his machine was broken he sent to the fire, a distance of five blocks, and asked for the horse team.  This team was sent to Number One station, where the steamer is kept and a distress signal was sent in to Company 3.  A team from Company 3, with the team sent from the fire, was hooked to the steamer, and it was all that these four big horses could do to get the steamer to the scene of the fire.

You recommended that direct pressure be turned on immediately receiving an alarm; you recommend that the city devise means to get this pumping engine to the fires in the outskirts quickly; you recommend that the automobile fire trucks be put in good order and they they be kept ready, at all times, to respond to alarms; you recommend that the streets be put in condition so that the fire trucks and teams can go through them.  Here is what the fire department and the city commissioners have done along that line:  On June 9th, 1912, just eleven hours after I had been elected chief of the department, I was in the office of the Wake Water Company insisting that direct pressure be commenced immediately upon receiving an alarm.  The superintendent of the Wake Water Company (then a private corporation) assured me that, owing to the age and conditions of the mains and pumps, the idea was impractical.  That same day I called upon the fire committee (under aldermanic form government) and asked that this condition be removed.  The fire committed started to work that day and have so far succeeded in having the Water Company declared bankrupt, placed into the hands of receivers, bought by the city of RALEIGH and an expenditure of $450,00 made in the purchase and equipment of the old water company, putting down an entirely new circulating system and a new two and a half million gallon pump.

The water pump, at present, is furnishing water under great difficulty owing to the fact that these changes are now being made and the whole plant is in the process of reconstruction.  The hydrant, the only one that could be used at this church fire, is not only one of the highest points in RALEIGH but is the farthest hydrant away from the pumping plant-- a distance of about three and three-quarter miles.  Relative to getting the pumping engine to these outside points quickly, will say that I long ago saw the need for such an arrangement and lost no time recommending that the city purchase a modern gasoline pumping engine which could answer these alarms quickly and carry with it a pumping plant complete with hose, ladders, and minor equipment. To get this steamer now owned by the city to Jenkins Memorial church, or any other point that distance from headquarters would require a team of three good horses.  The commissioners were quick to see the absolute need of one of these pumping engines and were anxious to add one to the present equipment, but the existing city character will not allow them to contract for anything in excess of their incoming for the current year.  As soon as the commissioners can legally do so, they will order a gasoline pumping engine for the purpose outlined.

Relative to the condition of auto fire trucks, will say that every piece of apparatus in the department is doubly inspected each day.  The engines and working parts of both the automobiles are tested three times a day, and in cold weather the radiators are never allowed to get cold and are kept under blankets while standing in quarters.  The accident that happened to the truck of Company 1 was not due in any sense of the word to negligence of inspection.  During the six minutes prior to the accident this machine had traveled over the roughest streets in RALEIGH in unimproved sections of the city in answering the other alarm and extinguishing a fire.  The chain was broken while the machine was going down hill from Peace street on Glenwood avenue, a street which no ordinary automobile should try to travel in this kind of weather.  I venture to say that had the machine not received the very best of attention it never could have done the duty which it was required to do during the six minutes prior to the accident.  It may be on interest to you and the public to know that a factory representative, on January 14th last, went over these machines and thoroughly inspected them, and found them to be in perfect condition.  In his list of recommendations he made the statement that these cars received better attention by far than any cars he had inspected.  The report is in my office.

Relative to the condition of the streets, your issue of Thursday carries notice of a bond election for putting down permanent pavement throughout the city and I understand that Glenwood avenue is to receive consideration very early in the proceedings.

Getting back to the fire.  I think that everyone who was present will agree that the firemen did everything that they could do under the circumstances, and took advantage of every chance offered them; and the fact that a part of this great big wooden church, situated on one of the highest hills in RALEIGH, and over a mile away from the nearest fire station, is still standing and that the furniture was never moved out of the wooden houses, one of which was within eight feet of this church, shows that the two streets, the only ones available, were certainly used and placed to the best advantage.  It is very noticeable that the firemen, while the roof was falling in, remained inside of the building and fought that fire, and succeeded in keeping the fire within the building in which it originated and without any damage whatever being done to the wooden structures closely adjacent.

I think you will see from the above facts that you are not the only one who has advocated each and every one of your recommendations and you will find in me a champion who is always ready to improve the fire-fighting faculties and especially increasing pressure and good streets; but you will also find that when you call for them the tax-payers and  voters have something to do with furnishing them (or the wherewithal to get them).

Here I include a list of a few more recommendations which I think your paper will endorse:

That churches be built with particular attention to exists and be included in building codes; that they are not now so included.  Also that the heating arrangements be placed in the hands of responsible persons.  Should a panic occur in the First Baptist church of this city you find that the exit facilities are very inadequate and a fire in the majority of the churches in the city of RALEIGH would have to be discovered quickly or else great damaged would be done, owing to the general construction of churches.

That when a church is built in the outskirts of the city, that it be equipped with fire prevention equipment insisted upon for other large buildings, especially automatic sprinklers over the furnaces.

I have been fighting now for four years to get fire-proof churches and fire-proof schools in the city of RALEIGH, these being the two places where the public congregates.  Come on and help me in the fight.

Do not consider this letter as in any way censuring you for the criticism for as long as I am chief of the fire department you can call on me any hour in th twenty-four, any day in the year and always find me ready to remove any cause for criticism within the fire department, and championing any measure for a better fire department a more adequate water supply.

Chief Fire Department.


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