I begin this story with a bit of sadness, because I realize that it could cost me some friendships. But I still must go forward with it because, as the title shows, I was there and I saw what happened.
One of the rewards of being an old pair of boots is that you get to see some matters do a 360Degrees turn, that is, see something old become new again. For example, in the 1930s fire apparatus builders offered four-door cabs for firefighter comfort and safety. They sold some, but not in large numbers. Now in the '90s, apparatus that have the features of the '30s are in, but where were we for 60 years? That story could be written, but that's not my intent. I only want to show that coming full circle isn't so unusual in our trade.
I'm writing about a matter that has occurred in the Dunkirk (N.Y.) Fire Department. It's my home department, and perhaps younger readers might not know that I served that organization as a chief officer for more years than I have fingers, and I still have the number I came in with.
Fewer people, more water Like so many fire departments of the time, it is not, in size, what it was in decades past. The number of engine companies is down from four to three and ready reserve. There are a ladder company and a heavy rescue, and since 911 dispatch has begun, the tires on the rescue rarely get cold. It's a combination department, reduced from 32 to 25 on the career side. The volunteer segment is like most today, finding it difficult to recruit trainees. What was a four-station department has been whittled to three.
The fire suppression challenge in Dunkirk is strictly within its urban borders and does not roam into a rural district except for mutual aid, which it both gives and sometimes calls for.
The fire load is down in this decade because, like many northeastern communities, it has seen its industry shuffle off to Borneo or other sundry global locations. This has not favored our tax base, so cuts have been suffered.
The topography is a good concentration of older dwellings, many of which are over-occupied and should breed a heavy fire frequency, but somehow do not. Many old industrial and commercial structures still exist with no more than nuisance fires.
Though we used to experience more working fires than today, the structural hazards that remain can have potent fires, because the furnishings and occupancies have been upgraded with modern building materials, resulting in smokier and faster-moving fires. I know this because I've been here, on the watch for 50 years.
About five years ago, the legal mandates of firefighting protective clothing saw a change from communal to individual garments for each volunteer, along with an upgrade for the career staff. Being better groomed seemed to raise the morale of our troops. Good leadership was in place and training opportunities abounded, so overall performance improved. Still, the leaders felt that better results might yet be at hand.
After conferring and conjecturing, they announced that two smoothbore nozzles would be evaluated. Training with them commenced, and pressure charts were posted to convert pressures to suit the new appliances.
Experience showed excellent results, so all preconnected attack lines in the department, both 1I- and 2H-inch, were so equipped. Things got going so well that I was puzzled, because I couldn't respond from my home to a working fire and get there before knockdown, which hadn't previously been a problem. Then someone said, "It's those smoothbore nozzles." I got out my slides and did a review of what I'd shot along the line, and it convinced me.
For instance, one night we had a worker close to my home. As I got out of my car, there was plenty of flame for my film, because I was close behind the first-due engine. The kitchen had become involved, the fire had broken through to the outside and the vinyl siding on the exposure, across the driveway, was breaking down.
I walked 150 feet to the involved dwelling, and it was as if somebody had turned out a light. With not much more than one swipe, the firefighters on that line cut the fire off at the pass. And this wasn't the only time they did that.
As the decades turn So what's the story? You can take nozzles since the 1930s and see the progress going right around the compass card and ending up where it started.
Were we wrong all those years? Not at all. Beginning in the late '30s, the straight-stream nozzle was about all you had. Then came the Mystery Nozzle. It gave you a choice of spray or solid stream, but the inside of the cone was hollow, so it wasn't truly effective unless you waved it around a lot.
Why the change? The country was relying more and more on oil-based fuel for power, and except for a mixture of foam, which was not only expensive but cumbersome to apply, fog was all you had. The spray was cheaper and mobile in application, so it began to be the most used.
Then came wwii and the whole cause had to be fueled by oil derivatives, so the military fire service concentrated on the fog nozzle. I was in the Marine Corps fire department on Guam, and I doubt that we carried a straight-stream nozzle on any of our apparatus.
After the war, there was another battle as former military firefighters tried to get older fire officials to go with the fog nozzle. It took years to accomplish, but in a decade or so, the old straight-stream appliances went into a compartment along with their assortment of tips.
How did this turn out? It worked, but that was a time when you could get a fire to yield pretty much to a 50gpm flow with a 1H-inch line. I'm talking dwelling fires here, because that was my bag. We fogged up many an interior, no one got steamed, and we put the fires out.
In the '60s there came nozzles with which you could dial up a straight stream of the size you wanted or a fog stream of any dimension. They worked well and we equipped heavily with them and won our battles.
The '70s was a decade of vast changes. Our lines just weren't delivering enough flow to put out the same fires, so we went to 1I-inch lines for attack purposes. Building components and modern furnishings had changed compounds, and we were beginning to lose our eyebrows and melt a few helmet fronts because we were addressing fires too far below the gallonage needed.
The circle is complete It was about there that the automatic nozzle found its way into the market. I'm pleased to say that I had the chance to meet with the inventor, Clyde McMillan, on several occasions. The device had several promising applications.
With generous pump pressure, the nozzle operator could increase the flow by pushing the shut-off handle forward. As he got through the positions, the volume increased. When that volume was no longer needed at the higher level, he cut back the handle, decreasing the flow to the lesser need. Also, if the pressure fell for any reason, the device automatically reshaped the stream from a weak one to one that was useable until the pressure returned or you could back away.
It gets foggy beyond this point, but in the 1990s someone seemed to have reinvented the old smoothbore nozzle. No longer equipped with a long stream shaper, it doesn't seem to be more than a shut-off valve and a short tip, but it does put out fires.
On an occasion recent to this writing, the Dunkirk Fire Department responded to a kitchen fire in a 2H-story frame dwelling. I should note that this one couldn't have been any more on fire than it was. In such a case, it's this organization's custom to enter the front and to push the fire out the back. The dwelling's peculiar layout did not allow that procedure, however, so the first line went directly to the fire room via a rear door.
This is not a water-centered firefighting organization, so as a backup was laid down, glass was flying so that the fire floor level ventilated forthwith. Ladders were raised, and primary and secondary searches were made. Unfortunately, two pet dogs perished in the incident.
How often it has been said, in a case of this type, that taking the course of direct addressment will spread the fire deeper into the structure. While this is true in many cases, it didn't hold water in this event, because this fire was out in a flash. Why the difference? Because the fire was hit with the amount of water that overwhelmed it and gave it no chance to spread.
The flows on Dunkirk's straight-bore nozzles are 185gpm for a 1I-inch line and 265gpm for 2H-inch lines. The tip sizes are 1/41/2Consult Printed Publication for Formula of an inch on the smaller line and 1J inches on the larger. The target pressure is 50psi at the nozzle. A graph is mounted near the pump panel of each pumper that covers various layouts that might be encountered.
The Dunkirk Fire Department is not single-minded. It's known here that various types of nozzles are needed for the overall fire challenge, so nozzles of all types are always near at hand should the occasion warrant a quick change.
Further, the officials of this fire department are not going about, beating on a drum, to get other firefighting entities to do as they have done. They only claim that they're doing very well with this conversion, and they are.
How do I know? I've been there and seen that.