Today, most people go to work with little thought of the dangers hidden around them in their workplaces. Their safety is taken for granted. It was the same 100 years ago. We, unfortunately, have not learned the lessons so painfully taught us in the past. Saturday, March 25, 1911...
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SHIRTWAIST MANUFACTURING & FIRE: A DANGEROUS MIX
Shirtwaist was a common term for a woman's blouse that became a fashion sensation in the 1890s. The combination of a waist (blouse) and a skirt was also a statement of women's liberation in an era when women were still denied the right to vote. The shirtwaist cast aside the corsets, bustles and hoops of an earlier generation and literally freed women from extremely restraining clothes. With more women in the workplace, practical clothing was a necessity. An outfit of a skirt, belt and crisp, white blouse was suitable for women to wear to work, school, shopping, and even for sports such as golf and tennis.
The very manufacture of these blouses produced large amounts of flammable materials. Cutting scraps from the cotton blouses were piled for later use or disposal and tissue-paper patterns were hung from overhead wires. Long wooden tables and cans of oil for the sewing machines were also stored nearby.
A dangerous combination. —Paul Hashagen
NEW YORK CITY'S HIGH-PRESSURE HYDRANT SYSTEM
As early as 1895, when the first money was set aside to provide for the initial surveys, New York City was planning a high-pressure water-delivery system for firefighting. In 1908, after a series of public demonstrations, the New York City Fire Department and the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity placed the new high-pressure pumping system into operation, serving portions of lower Manhattan as far north as 23rd Street. Later, a similar system was completed in downtown Brooklyn.
The system let responding fire units immediately stretch as many as four hoselines directly from each special high-pressure hydrant. These hydrants delivered water at a pressure of 125 psi, thereby eliminating the need for steam pumpers. (It must be remembered that at this time horses were still pulling fire apparatus. As one chief stated as the new hydrant system was placed in service: "The days of the steam engine soon will be passed. The pumping stations soon will supplant them…The disadvantages of the steam engine…the time lost getting up steam, getting fuel and other delays caused the spread of fire.")
A central control valve charged the hydrant while separate smaller control valves opened the flow to each of the four outlets separately. The FDNY began placing specially designed heavy hose wagons in service in these designated areas. The units carried three-inch hose, large-diameter nozzles, heavy stream appliances and additional men to provide a more effective and quick method of controlling fires before they could extend and become multiple alarms. Fire chiefs could also send requests to the pumping stations to increase the pressure in the system when needed. These stations pumped fresh water through the high-pressure system, but a backup emergency saltwater supply could be initiated if needed, using river water. The system was used effectively for many years until it was discontinued in 1954. —Paul Hashagen