Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 51, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

On the sides of the windows, within recesses in the wall of the building, are located annunciators connected with lightning arresters and automatic protectors, one hundred upon each side, to which the outside circuits (which here terminate, as before related, in the underground or sub-way cables) are connected. From this apparatus the wires enter the cabinet work at the top and connect at the rheostat switch-board mounted upon an upright marbleized-slate base, and occupying a position in one of the wings, the uses of which are to connect a delicate apparatus for discriminating by a system of measurements the locality of faults on the circuits, etc.

From here the wires extend to the main switches which occupy the central portion of the cabinet on one side of the office, and are mounted upon marbleized-slate bases three feet wide, the aggregate length of which is twenty feet, containing some nine hundred switches, and from which wires radiate to every part of the office, wand which have their uses for testing in a variety of ways. Each circuit connecting at the switch-board is provided with a small needle galvanometer, similar to a watch-face, and arranged upon a projecting shelf under the switches, and mounted upon marble bases with lass dials. These little instruments show at all times the exact electrical condition of the circuits to which they belong, and are used in connection with the switches to detect the existence upon the circuits of crosses or leakages, and where such faults are indicated the operator switches in the measuring apparatus at the rheostat switches, and determines the exact locality of the fault. They are also used for determining the condition of the electro-motive force. This consists of a battery of nearly two thousand jars, situated in the basement of the building about two hundred and twenty-five feet distant from the telegraph office.

Two hundred and twenty-five wires, aggregating in length about nine miles, are required to make the connections between the battery-room and the switch-board.

Above the switch-board are placed electric annunciators corresponding in numbers to the engine and hook and ladder companies for informing the operators at a glance the situation of the force--that is what companies are in or out of quarters. This is controlled by a key-board on the desk, in the body of the platform.

When a company leaves its quarters on a still alarm, or for any purpose is temporarily out of service, it signals the Central office upon the combination circuits, and the annunciator is made to show that such company is out. Likewise on its return to quarters the proper signal is given, and the annunciator is set to show the company "in service." Thus the operators are always informed, when a fire signal is received, just what companies can be depended upon to respond.

The cabinets on the opposite side, facing the switch-board, contain the apparatus for receiving and recording the signals and the system of transmitting to the department simultaneously with their receipt from the street boxes. Al the wires entering here are through the main switch-board passing beneath the floor and up into the cabinet. Here under a glass case is a large registering instrument with a capacity of fifty circuits, with an independent ink-recording pen for each box circuit. This instrument is provided with paper ten inches in width, on which the signals are recorded, and which is fed from a roll beneath the instrument passing through and under a glass plate in the counter shelf for a distance of four feet, so tht the last signal received is in view, and entering the cabinet is again reeled up. Directly over the register and in the same case is placed the combination switch, consisting of a hard rubber bar about two feet long, sliding in a strip of mahogany placed horizontally and inlaid with numerous metal bearings. Upon each side of the slide, upon the wood are mounted a multitude of flat springs, their ends overlapping and terminating upon the metal bearings in the rubber, by which two or more springs are in electrical contact. To these springs are attached wires connecting with the combination circuits extending to all the department quarters in the city, and to the telephone circuits and local apparatus to which it is desired to give instantaneous connection with a street box circuit. Connecting to and extending in a line from the Combination Switch eight feet, on either side, with a covering of plate glass, is a polished steel bar two inches wide and one-fourth of an inch thick, supported on its edge by steel rollers. In the face of this bar at intervals of three inches a slot one-fourth of an inch wide is cut on an angle. Under the bars at corresponding intervals are the circuit switches to work in unison with the combination. They consist of pieces of hard rubber six inches long, three-fourth of an inch wide, inlaid with metal bearing, and slide in perpendicular grooves at right angles to the steel bar. At each side of the slides flat german silver springs having wire connections to the various circuits, etc., are screwed to the wood, and their ends terminating on the metal bearings in the slides. The top end of the slide, which extends above the steel bar, has a friction roller fitting the diagonal slot in the bar. The lower end is connected to a lever with a handle extending outward. By pulling down this handle the bearings of the slide of the circuit switch on which the springs rest are taken from their normal position and placed in contact with others of the springs. The downward movement carrying the friction roller within the slot in the steel bar causes it to move and to carry with it the slide of the Combination Switch, thereby effecting a large number of changes in the circuits by the simple movement of the handle.

All the different pieces of apparatus pertaining to a given circuit connecting with the receiving and automatic transmission are arranged in a line vertically. First the lever switch, etc., then the key, above that the shunt switch, pulling out similarly to an organ stop, for placing in the circuit an increased electro-motive force at will, and shunting the relay to obviate change in its adjustment. Above, that, under a glass plate, is the relay, which is connected directly on the circuit, then the local peg switch, which makes connection with the Register, and the Annunciator over it or with the duplicates in another part of the office, above that being the list of stations on the circuit and the Annunciator showing the number of the circuit.

Besides the fifty circuit recording instrument there is a sixteen circuit recorder recently added for the accommodation of the new circuits, and duplicating instrument with fifty-six pieces, whereby in the event of accident any of the circuits can be transferred to the duplicating instrument. There is also an instrument for recording the outgoing alarm signals with an independent pen connecting with each gong circuit through the repeaters, making its records in red ink, and with the combination circuits recording those in blue ink, and attached to which is a multipled repeating relay to which is several telephone circuits are connected, and on which all fire signals are repeated; the repeating transmitters through which the alarms are sent on the gong circuits, consist of three, and are located upon pedestals in the middle of the platform. The principal and post important of these is a marvel of mechanism and ingenuity. Two sets of double cylinders connected with a powerful battery, arranged to revolve in unison, and making contact with springs having their connections with the gong circuits so that a single revolution on the cylinder gives one electric pulsation to each circuit. The motive power is a train of numerous wheels, etc., moved by weights. Connecting with this main train or movement is a series of four auxiliary movements, each being independent of the other, and which are brought into action in connection with the main train at the will of the operators. These auxiliary movements consists each of three dials or circular discs, indexed upon their rims with plains figures, the first having 1 to 25, and the other two having 1 to 9, each set moving on one axis. The discs here described control the battery current to the cylinders, and the different figures to which the indices may be set, indicate such number of strokes as are to be transmitted to the instruments in connection with the circuits. If the signal is to be a continuous number of blows with an equal interval of time between then, say a test signal of eleven, the first disc of the series in use will be set at the "11" on the index. The effect will be to supply battery to the cylinder just while eleven revolutions are made, the mechanical arrangement or relationship being such as to cut off the battery supply a soon as the desired number of pulsations have been given, thus feeding to the circuits the eleven pulsations, each of which gives a blow upon the gongs and makes a record on the registers. The capacity for transmitting by any one of the auxiliaries is twenty-five continuous blows pr any less number, or any combination of up 999, so that with the four series it is possible to transmit with one setting of the index a continuation of twelve distinct numbers of blows. The available numerals embraced within three digits, or up to 999, having been absorbed, it has become necessary to add the fourth digit for numbering signal stations. Ig the signal be composed of two numbers in combination like 203 the two discs of the same series are used, one being set to 2 and the other at 3, and if another number is to be added to the combination, say 4, then the third disc is set to 4. As soon as the 2 has been give the first disc cuts off the current for an extra interval, then follows up the 3, again an extra interval and the 4 is given, thus the breaking up of the continuity in the nine blows drive them into the combination 2-3-4. To transmit a signal of this class an additional disc of another auxiliary is required, and the full capacity of the two is six numbers or up to 999 999. It is doubtful if the demands of the city, created through its very rapid growth, will ever exceed the possibilities of this instrument for meeting its requirements. Another of the repeaters is provided with contact cylinders, etc., and a case of wheels, one for each station, and to transmit a signal and the machine is started, the wheel performs the same duty in controlling the battery current as the indexed discs in the other instrument, but its capacity is limited to the regular signal stations. The third repeater is much smaller and has but a single dial. It is used for testing and other purposes.

Telephones are affixed to the cabinet-work of the office, and connection is thus maintained with every company house and the principal officials for department business solely. The different apparatus used in the receiving and transmitting of a fire signal having been described, it is only necessary to explain that when a signal box is pulled for afire the operators on duty are first apprised of its by the dropping of the annunciators, showing the number of the circuit on which the box is located, followed by the number of the box. The handle of the switch and combination is pulled down by the operator, allowing the succeeding signals to be automatically transferred to the companies. Every horse in service is unhitched at the first tap of the instrument. The full signals struck all through the city upon the instruments of the combination, as well as on the telephone bells, and recorded upon the paper of the register. The assistant operator has meanwhile prepared the transmitting repeater by setting it to the signal number, and the signal then follows over the gong circuits working in the same houses, but over other wires and on different gongs. Except that an imperfection may exist in the Combination circuit, such of the force as are assigned to duty at the station indicated rarely ever wait long enough to hear the latter signal, and within thirty seconds from the start of the signal from the box except, perhaps, in the case of a high number--the companies assigned have left their quarters in response.

The signal boxes which are distributed throughout the city are connected with the Central office by special circuits--that is, no other use is made of the circuits except for signaling fire alarms. The number of boxes on each circuit is from fifteen to twenty-five, and the arrangement of circuits is such that no two boxes in the same neighborhood are on the same circuit, so that in the event of one of the wires being out of order, there is still a chance for connection by means of the other circuits. Keys for the boxes are placed convenient for access, generally in drug stores and similar public places, and a sign on each box informs the public where the keys are to be found. Every policeman and fireman has keys. They are also provided to reputable citizens who ask for them, it being stipulated that they shall be carried upon their person. A couple of years ago Superintendent Smith began to put the Tooker keyless door, which can be opened by any one by turning a handle, on the street boxes. The turning of the handle sounds a bell on the inside of the door, and the sound is continued during the time required to effect the opening and the transmission of an alarm--about a quarter of a minute--ample to attract the attention of the police or other persons in the vicinity, thus rendering it unsafe for person to tamper with them. Much time is thus saved in important districts in transmitting am alarm, which under other circumstances would necessitate the procuring and use of a key. They proved to be so popular that whenever an opportunity occurs keyless doors are put to boxes, and in the near future few boxes will be closed, and these will be in districts where the funny or malicious adult or child would be able to tamper with a keyless box without great danger of detection. The boxes are arranged with clock-work, and springs \furnish power. They are provided with circuit breakers, wheels which are notched, and contact springs which have their ends bearing upon the wheel. On opening the box a hook is seen and a sign "Pull the hook once." The pull operates on the clock-work, and the notches on the wheel passing under the springs break the circuit once for each notch, and sending to the tape or record in the Central Office an indication corresponding to the notches on the wheel. The numbers and combinations being different in each box, the operators know instantly from what box a signal comes.

The usual method of attaching the boxes to poles has been greatly improved by adopting an invention of Superintendent Smith, whereby iron gas lamp posts are altered into combination lamp and signal posts. The posts are cut off as they stand five feet form this bases, and an ornamental framework of iron attached. This has a receptacle for the signal box. The columns of the post is connected again at the top of the frame, and on its top is placed the lamp with a red display globe, indicating that a fire signal box is below. Then gas supply is through the column and frame. There have been nearly two-score of these combination posts established and connected with the under ground cables, for which they are specially designed. They are both practical and ornamental. Another invention of Superintendent smith recently put in use was the special signal box. They were destined for the school-houses of the city, and 130 are now in use. They transmit calls for fire, police, and ambulance service by simply manipulating "pointers' on the boxes and pulling a hook. The desired signal is received at the Central Office twice, and the location once. The normal condition of the box is for a fire signal, but when the pointer is used, other boxes are in service which by the use of a key can be made to send four other special signals, among them second and third alarms.

The regular force employed in the operating of the telegraph bureau consists of a superintendent, a chief operator, three operators, five assistant operators, one clerk, two battery men, five linemen, two box inspectors, one instrument-maker, one machinist, and a floating force of climbers and laborers at day's wages. The Central Office is: George Farrell, Chief Operator; Edward Sellew, Christopher Jones, Edward S. Sims, Operators; Daniel W. Hernon, Frank D. Collis, Frank W. Lord, John H. Kavanagh, Francis Fitzpatrick, Assistant Operators; and Gabriel Van Cott, Jr., Clerk.

So far this chapter has referred only to the telegraph system and appliances as they existed in the old Headquarters in Mercer Street. Arrangements at the present writing are being made to transfer the entire telegraphic paraphernalia to the sixth floor of the new Fire Headquarters, 67th Street, between Third and Lexington Avenues. What changes, if any, this will bring about in the system remains to be seen. It is hardly possible that any considerable improvement can be effected. But the advances in electrical sciences are so rapid and numerous, that it is impossible to prophesy what the near future may being forth, top revolutionize in a great measure the existing state of affairs.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie

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