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The Development of Fire Hose

By Paul Hashagen The earliest firefighting operations in America saw lines of buckets being passed back and forth between a water source and the structure on fire. This method, the best available at the time, was both labor intensive and ineffective. Large amounts of water were lost as the heavy buckets passed from hand to hand and the actual delivery of the extinguishing agent to the seat of the fire was poor and unreliable. The introduction of hand-pumping engines greatly improved water delivery to the fire area, but the crude machines still had to be filled by bucket brigades. Gooseneck delivery nozzles on the engines did allow streams to be directed with some accuracy into the burning structure. In Holland, the Superintendent of the Fire Brigade, Jan van der Heiden, and his son Nicholaas took firefighting to its next step with the fashioning of the first fire hose in 1673. These 50-foot lengths of leather were "sewn together like a boot leg." Even with the limitations of pressure, the attachment of the hose to the gooseneck nozzle allowed closer approaches and more accurate water application. Van der Heiden was also credited with an early version of a suction hose using wire to keep it ridged. The next major advance in fire hose was made in 1807 by two American firemen from Philadelphia's Hose Company 1. James Sellars and Abraham Pennock experimented by using metal rivets instead of stitching to bind the seams of leather hose. There efforts paid off and became a huge success. Leather hose still had many drawbacks, including drying out, cracking and bursting from excessive pressure. The introduction of rivets, however, allowed higher pressures and greater delivery of water on the fireground. The improved hose now was 40 to 50 feet in length and weighed more than 85 pounds with the couplings. This improvement prompted the further development of suction to draw larger quantities of water much more quickly than before. The water could be delivered directly to the pumper through a hose, thus eliminating the need for buckets. It was said that 100 feet of hose was the equivalent of 60 men with buckets. Hose oilers were developed to keep the leather supple and pliable. Various types of oils and other substances were used to keep the hose in shape.

The next improvement came in 1821, when James Boyd received a patent for rubberlined, cotton-webbed fire hose. By 1871, the Cincinnati Fire Department was using the B.F. Goodrich Company's new rubber hose reinforced with cotton ply. With different makers and different sizes of hose finding its way to the fireground, the problem of linking one type of hose to another began to develop. This was formally addressed for the first time in 1873, when the International Association of Fire Engineers held its first convention and adopted a standard coupling size of 712 threads to the inch. In 1878, the American Fire Hose Manufacturing Company of Chelsea, MA, advertised that it was manufacturing the "first seamless cotton fire hose produced for steam fire engines." Many other companies were developing similar hose with pressures tested to 350 psi. Even with the new lighter-weight hose, some fire departments were slow to relinquish their tried-and-true leather fire hose. Improvements were made and woven cotton became the standard in the fire hose industry. Better weaves made hose stronger, yet easier to roll and handle. As technology advanced, manufacturers made larger-diameter hoses capable of greater and greater pressures. Small attack lines became stronger, more reliable and easier to handle. Lightweight, durable and flexible fire hose is now common. One can only guess how amazed the early hose pioneers would be with the size, materials used, pressures attained, and the amount of water delivered by today's modern fire hose.

About the Author: Paul Hashagan, is a fire service historian and author of several books about the history of firefighting. He is an FDNY firefighter assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan and an assistant chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department.

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