Our Firemen, The History of the NY Fire Departments

Chapter 55, Part IV

By Holice and Debbie

The Amoskeag Manufacturing Company of Manchester, N. H., in1860 brought to this city a piston engine which was placed in charge of Paulding Hose Company No. 57, located at 162 West 18th Street, by the authorities which was afterward bought, and proved to be a valuable auxiliary to the fire service. In the year 1861 Americus Engine 6 and Lexington 7 applied to the Common Council for steam engines and were furnished with rotary engines built by Silsby, Mynderse and Company, Seneca Falls, N. Y. the same year the Portland Manufacturing Company sold to the city two piston engines. One was placed in charge of Empire Engine Company 42, the other in charge of Jefferson Engine Company 26, and the same year Black Joke Engine 33 and Jackson Engine Company 24 received each one of the Smith pattern. In 1862 Engine Company 9 and 52 received an engine built by A. B. Taylor & Son, of this city, and Engine Company 11, James Smith's pattern. In 1863 Engine Company 4, 30, and 51, received engines built by Jos. Banks of this city, and Engine Companies 12, 13, 28, and 31 engines built by Jas. Smith of New York; Engine Company 22 one built by Mr. Jeffers. In 1864 Engine Companies 1, 15 and 37 received engines built by A. Van Ness of this city, and Engine Companies 10 and 20 machines built by Jos. Banks, All these were Piston Engines.

In the year 1865 the Metropolitan Fire Department was organized, and many of the engines above mentioned were altered to be drawn by horses, and were used until larger and more powerful ones were substituted in their places.

The metropolitan commissioners in 1865 contracted with the Amoskeag Manufacturing company, of new Hampshire, to build at once for use twenty (second size engines) of what are called U Tank Single Pump, weight, about seven thousand pounds when equipped for service, with 8-inch steam cylinder, 12-inch stroke and 4-1/2 inch water cylinder, and most of them were in service in January, 1887, being the same style as that used by Paulding Hose Company 57 of the Volunteer Department, an engine which was built in 1860, and at this time still in service.

The engines of more modern pattern are what are called Double Pump Engines, nearly the same as above, only that they are double acting, having two steam and water cylinders with 8-inch stroke. The first engine placed in service under the new system was a large double engine, and known as "Metropolitan No. 1," of which William Corgan was foreman, and was located in the house formerly occupied by Exempt Company No. 4, Centre Street, facing the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, at City Hall Park.

During the year 1871, when the horse disease known as "Epizootic" was raging all over the country, the commissioners caused to be built five self-propelling engines of large size and placed in service, and assigned to the following companies:

Engine Company 20, Foreman, Hugh Bonner, now Assistant Chief
Engine 32, Foreman, Jos. F. McGill, now Battalion Chief
Engine Company 8, foreman, John Welsh
Engine Company 11, Foreman, Isaac Fisher
Engine No. 24, Wm. McLaughlin, Foreman

These engines are still in service, and under the able management of the above-mentioned officer rendered good service to the city.

It will be remembered that the large fire in Boston, Mass., occurred at this time, and the want of horses to draw the apparatus was one of the probably causes of delay which gave the fire such a start, which would not have occurred otherwise.

The following clear and interesting explanation of the steam fire engine is furnished by ex-Chief Engineer Joseph L. Perley:

"The steam fire engine is simple and compact. The engine is attached to the boiler and both are carried on what are called shears. In some cases the water tanks act as such. In larger cities the running gear differs according to condition and character of the streets. The boilers differ some what as to the interior, the main object being strength and lightness; the outer shell being steel, and the flues or tubes being made of composition, and many of them seamless brass. Some boilers have as many as the space will allow for the purpose of obtaining as much heating surface as possible. The engine is attached to the boiler on one side, so that the steam chest may be as neat the steam dome as possible, the cylinder having steam ports at either end, leading directly to the steam chest. The steam before entering, flows from the boiler into the steam chest, then into the cylinder, where it acts upon the piston and produces motion. The steam is admitted from the steam chest to the cylinder through a valve, and when the steam so admitted has performed its work of driving the piston either up or down, another valve opens and permits this steam to escape from the cylinder into a passage for the exhaust. Steam which is used in the dome of the boiler, after performing its functions in the steam cylinder to create what is called artificial draft, which adds to the intensity of the fire in the furnace of the boiler. The main water pump is also attached to the boiler, below the steam cylinder, and is connected with the steam cylinder by means of a piston, in the center o of which is what is called a link, which connects with the crank shaft by a link block or journal.

The balance wheels are also attached tot he shaft, and near the crank is an eccentric which connected by an eccentric rod or strap made of brass, occasions the valves to work the engine when in operation, and to continue so without the aid of nay agency other than the revolutions of the engine when in motion. The steam cylinders as a rule are always larger than the water cylinders, sometimes on-half again larger. The stroke generally is from 8 to 12 inches, so that the water pressure can be increased to double that of the stream if necessary. The pumps differ somewhat in form of construction, but perform similar to each other, being double acting receiving and discharging its water at every stroke or revolution. Each pump has a partition separating the water from the receiving and discharging chambers. In that partition there is a valve called a relief valve, which acts to relive the discharging chamber of the pump, as would the safety valve upon the boiler, and can be adjusted the same so that an overpressure of water can be relieved, or returned back to the receiving chamber of the pump. Engines have a steam and water gauge placed so the engineer can always see when the engine is in motion. What water is required to feed the boiler and resupply that which has passed out of it in steam, is taken from the main pump when the engine is in motion. Should the boiler require water when the engine is not in motion it can be taken from a tank, which is placed upon the engine for that purpose, which can be done by suing the relief valve and allowing the eater to circulate in the main pump, without discharging water through the hose. Tanks are connected by supply pipes leading to the main pump also to the feed pumps which can be used to inject water into the boiler, on which a check valve is located near the bottom to prevent a greater pressure of steam from forcing it back. These pipes are also protected from frost by a system of small steam pipes which are used to inject steam into, and prevent freezing in extreme cold weather. Engines generally are used to handle the water from hydrants, and to force it to distant points where most required to extinguish fires, also the river water when fires are adjacent to it, for that purpose. Each engine has two large 4-1/2 inch suction pipes, when connected can reach the water from docks or piers. A fuel pan is also arranged in the rear or the boiler and near the furnace door to carry fuel capable of lasting until fuel wagons are brought to the fire. foreman and engineers of company usually ride on fuel pan in going to and returning from fires. While engine is standing in quarters the boiler is connected to a heating apparatus, which is used in keeping the water in the boiler at the pointing point, that steam may be generated in a short time upon leaving quarters, and the engine be placed in service as soon as proper connections can be made and hose paid to place where water is required.

Each boiler has a tram pipe attached, with steam valves whistle and four gauge cocks, to ascertain the quantity of water in the boiler that the engineer may keep it well supplied."

In 1884, at the Annual Convention of the national Association of Fire Engineers held at Chicago, chief engineer G. C. Hal, of Kansas, Mo.., read a paper on the desirable points of mechanism in steam fire engines. "A steam fire engine," said Chief Hale, "to meet the requirements of present engineers, should contain first, a quick-steaming boiler, as time is an element of great importance in combating fires, a delay of a few minutes in a critical case may result in a large conflagration. Especially is this true of ties in a large manufacturing establishments filled with combustible materials. Delays are dangerous, is an old maxim, and is nowhere more truly demonstrated than in getting up steam in the boiler of a steam fire-engine after an alarm is tapped--other things equal, that engine in which a working steam power is most quickly required is to be preferred. Second, the construction and mounting of the boiler on the engine frame should permit of a satisfactory working on an even ground. It is not always possible to locate a steam fire-engine over the cisterns or other source of supply in such a manner that it will be substantially level from aft and crosswise, and if it ws possible, no time can be consumed in leveling it up without serious risk to the burning property. A steam fire-engine boiler should, therefore, be adapted to work equally well whether level or considerably out of plumb. Third, a steam fire-engine, as a whole, should be constructed in such a manner that no reasonable possibility exists of headage or derangement while going to or in use at a fire, and yet it should be provided with facilities for quick and positive repair. Fourth, the general construction of the engine, as a whole, should be especially adapted to rapid and sometimes rough handling in making ready in answering an alarm, and to the severest strains in transit over rough and uneven roads. Fifth, the boiler of a steam fire-engine should be absolutely exempt from the possibility of explosions either while steaming up or at work during a fire. The pumps of a steam fire-engine should be adapted to work without injury with turbid or gritty water, if occasion should require, as it is not always possible to obtain water for fire-engines from clear sources of supply, and engine are frequently compelled to derive water from rivers or other natural water ways, the streams of which carry large quantities of sand or silt in mechanical suspension. Of course, such matters must pass through the pumps, and excepting the valves and pistons, are constructed with especial reference to the use of this character of water, they will deteriorate very rapidly, diminishing the efficiency of the engine and demanding frequent repairs.

During the past eighteen or twenty years the improvements in England in steam fire-engines have not been very important. The changes have been improvements in various parts of the working gear.

So far we have touched upon the history of the steam fire-engines in Europe. The first steam fire-engine constructed in the United States ws designed and built by Mr. Paul Rapsey Hodge, C. E., in this city in 1840-41. It was a self-propelled engine, the first of the kind ever constructed, with horizontal cylinders and pumps, a locomotive boiler; the slab or plate framing to which the cylinder and pumps were attached, afterward used in locomotives, and wrought iron wheels, which were manufactured by the Matteawan Company for Mr. Hodge. It was arranged to be drawn by horses, if required, as well as by hand and its own steam power. The engine was begun on December 12. 1840, and completed April 25, 1841.

Mr. Hodge had induced the several insurance companies to give him a conditional order for a steam fire engine, his contract being that the engine should be capable of forcing 6,000 lbs of water per minute to a height of 120 feet. In 1865 Mr. Hodge wrote a letter to an English author stating that he had begun the construction of his engine many months before Captain John Ericsson landed in New York. It had been claimed that Captain Ericsson had built the first American steam fire engine. Mr. Hodge showed that Captain Ericsson had made a design for one, a copy of which was published in Ewbank's "Hydraulics," but it was never made. It was said to be precisely the same as that built by Mr. John Braithwaite in London in 1829. In the year 1840 Captain Ericsson had obtained the old medal which was offered by the Mechanics' Institute of new York for the best plan of steam fire-engine. The difference in the design and in the engine built by Mr. Braithwaite was in the boiler.

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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