Fire and Steam.

The Remedy.

To the Editors of the U.S. Nautical Magazine and Naval Journal:

Since the introductions of steam vessels, the press has teemed with accounts of the dreadful conflagrations, explosions, and collisions, with the great destruction of human life and property. The press and pulpit have thundered against these calamities, and have characterized them as enemies, but they still go on; the groans of the dying and wounded have gone up against them from every corner of our land; but they do not cease. The loss of the steamer Northern Indiana on the 17th July on Lake Erie, by fire, with the loss of many valuable lives, and a large amount of property, induces me to investigate the cause, and remedy, and place them before the public. The cause is too well known to need much comment. From the engineers' story, the fire orginated about the boilers, or steam chimney. To say nothing about the arrangement of the boat in regard to fire, we will proceed to the remedy. First; stop the engine to prevent a draught of air of 17 miles per hour, in a calm, which is the cause of all boats burning so rapidly, and the burning of the after part of the boat first. Second; the engineer and other officers should command order, and apply all the fire engines at once, which will put out any fire, in our opinion, on board of steamboats, when there is no draught of air to cause the fire to rage or spread.

The most certain remedy of putting out fires on board of steam-vessels, is the blowing of wet steam from the boilers with tubular steam pipes running through all parts of the boat, with openings to blow out wet steam wherever the fire might originate, with rods of iron leading from the different blow-off cocks to the bow of the boat, where there is no danger of fire, in order to blow-off steam into that part of the boat that may be on fire, withour risk to the passengers. The rods, with levers attached, to open the blow-off cocks to be encased, and locked up; the captain, mate, and engineer to carry the keys.

In case of fire the engine should be stopped, unless blowing a gale ahead, in which case the boat should be put before the wind in order to produce a calm. The wet steam to be blown into that part which is on fire, by the first officer that reaches the blow-off levers with a key; due notice being given to the passengers, by printed cards in different parts of the boat, that wet steam will be blown into that part of the boat which is on fire, in order that there may be no alarm among the passengers. It is a well-known fact that wet steam will put out fire, and never has failed, when blown into the location of the fire on board of steam-vessels; and steam-vessels always have, when under way, the steam at hand to put out fires in all parts of the boat, by the above arrangement; and no sane man will presume to say that they will not be used when the levers that open the blow-off cocks are placed forward — the last part of the boat that burns, in all cases.

Let us now search a remedy for the loss of life and property in case of a collision, snags or rocks; for such accidents will take place, notwithstanding all the laws that has or may be passed to prevent them. In order to accomplish that object, let us make the vessel itself a life-boat, by building her with longitudinal and transverse bulkheads of boiler iron, water-tight, forming from 10 to 30 compartments, according to the size of the boat, which will give much more strength to the vessel with less expense, and much less weight than any other mode of construction. The ship would then be a life-boat, beyond all contingency, that could not be sunk or lost under any circumstances. In case of two or three collisions on a voyage, that would fill thatnumber of compartments, she would have ample strength, flotation, or buoyancy remaining, to carry her safe to her port of destination, with her valuable cargo of human beings, without the slightest risk to life or property.

In regard to explosions, in our opinion the cause is a lack of water in the boilers. No boilers ever blew up with a flush of water in the middle or upper cock to our knowledge during thirty odd years' steam-boating. The remedy — care and a practical knowledge of the business.

H. Whitaker

The U.S. Nautical Magazine and Naval Journal Vol. IV (1855), p 411-412.

Transcribed by Lars Bruzelius

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Copyright © 1996 Lars Bruzelius.