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Fire Engine

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FIRE ENGINE. An engine for projecting water upon buildings on fire. Buckets composed of wood, leather, or other suitable material, were the only means employed in England and on the continent for extinguishing fires, up to the middle or close of the sixteenth century. The earliest mention of any description of fire engine with which we are at present acquainted, occurs in the building accounts of the city of Augsburg, in Germany, in the year 1518. They are there described as " instruments for fires," and " water syringes, useful at fires." They are stated to have been made by Anthony Blatner, a goldsmith of Friedburg, who, in the year above mentioned, became a citizen of Augsburg. These syringes appear to have been of considerable magnitude, as they were mounted on wheels, and worked by levers ; they are also represented to have been expensively constructed. Caspar Schott, the well-known 'mist, states, that small engines of this description were used in his native city (Konigshofen) in the year 1617. This writer has also furnished a short account of a much larger one, which he saw tried at Nuremburg, in 1657. It was constructed by John Hautsch, of that place, and was mounted on a sledge ten feet long by four feet broad, which was drawn by two horses. It had two working cylinders placed horizontally in the cistern, which was eight feet long, four feet high, and two feet broad. It was worked by twenty-eight men, and threw a jet of water one inch in diameter to the height of eighty feet. This is the largest and most powerful squirting engine of which we have any record. The English appear to have been unacquainted with the progress made by the German engineers, or to have been very slow in availing themselves of their discoveries; for at the close of the sixteenth century, hand-squirts were first introduced in London for extinguishing fires. They were usually made of brass, of various sizes, holding from two to four quarts of water each. Those of the former capacity were about two feet and a half long, and one inch and a half in diameter, that of the nozle being half an inch. They were furnished with handles on each side, and every syringe required three men to work it. One man on each side grasped the handle in one hand and the nozle in the other, while a third man worked the piston or plunger, drawing it out while the nosel was immersed in a supply of water, which filled the cylinder; the bearers then elevated the nozle, when the other pushed in the plunger, the skill of the bearers being employed in directing the stream of water upon the fire. In the vestry-room of St. Dionis Backchurch, in Fenchurch-street, London, there are still preserved several of these syringes, the property of that parish. They are said to have been used at the great fire in 1666, when one of the set (originally six) was lost, and several others much damaged. These syringes present a valuable and interesting relic ; for although the number of them formerly dis persed throughout the city was once very great, very few indeed of them are now to be seen. Soon after the commencement of the seventeenth century the Londoners perceived the convenience that would arise from fixing these squirts in a portable cistern, and applying their power through the medium of a lever : the fire engine thus obtained was considered a great mechanical achievement. The advantages resulting from this arrangement were certainly considerable, as they permitted a larger syringe to be used, which could be worked easier, as well as much faster, than the hand squirt. This simple form of engine, however, had many inconveniences ; they projected the water by spurts only, a cessation of the stream taking place between each stroke of the piston, in consequence of which a great deal of water was lost, and a difficulty was experienced in accurately projecting the stream. To be useful, it was also necessary to place these engines very close to the fire, which exposed the persons working them to imminent danger from the falling of the burning buildings. That these engines were but imperfectly constructed, and deficient in strength, we learn from a recorded circumstance, that three of them which were taken to extinguish a large conflagration on London bridge, in 1633, and were then considered " such excellent things, that nothing that was ever devised could do so much good, yet none of these did prosper, for they were all broken."

The following description of an engine of this kind has been handed down to us by Mr. Clare, in his work on the Motion of Fluids, published in 1735. " Engines for extinguishing fires," he observes, "are either forcing or lifting pumps, and being intended to project water with great velocity, their effect in great measure depends upon the length of their levers, and the force with which they are wrought. A common squirting engine which was constructed on the latter principle, consisted of a large circular cistern, like a great tub, mounted upon four small solid wheels, running upon axletrees, which supported the vessel. A cover or false bottom, perforated with numerous small holes, was fixed inside the cistern, about a foot below the upper edge, and about three feet from the bottom. In the centre of the perforated cover was fixed a lifting pump, to the piston rod of which was attached a cross-tree carrying two vertical connecting rods, which were simultaneously worked up and down by manual labour, by means of two curved levers (similar to common pump handles,) on opposite sides of the machine. During the downward motion of the piston, a quantity of water passes through the valve on its upper surface, and gets above the piston, and during the ascending stroke, this water is driven with great velocity through a branch pipe provided with a flexible leather joint, or by a ball-and-socket motion, screwed on to the top of the pump barreL Between the strokes the stream is discontinued. This engine is supplied with water poured into the cistern by buckets, &c., the perforated cover before mentioned keeping back all such matters as would be lately to choke or injure the pump work.' A year after the great fire of London, that is, in 1667, an act of Common Council was passed " for preventing and suppressing fires for the future," in which, among other salutary provisions, was enacted that the several parishes, the aldermen, and different companies, should provide a certain number of buckets, hand squirts, fire engines, &c.; which shows that these were the only contrivances then known for the purpose. We may also infer that the fire engines were not much to be relied upon at that time, from the greater importance attached to hand squirts and buckets. With such inefficient means it is not to be wondered at that fires spread as they used to do, but rather, taking into account the buildings of that period, that they were extinguished at all. Towards the close of the seventeenth century, M. Duperrier, in France, Leupold, in Germany, and Newsham, in England, introduced, almost contemporaneously, fire engines of a very improved description, which soon came into general and extensive use. The most novel and important feature of these engines consisted in the employment of an air chamber, which rendered the stream of water continuous and uniform ; together with the equally im portant and valuable addition of the flexible leathern hose, of any requisite length, invented by the brothers Jan Van der Heide, and first tried by them at Amsterdam, in the year 1672. These contrivances enabled the stream of water to be conveyed a considerable distance from the engine, and directed upon the flames with the greatest precision and effect In the engines of Leupold, Duperrier, and some others, one working cylinder only was employed in con junction with an air vessel. These machines very much resembled the common garden engines of the present day, which are too well known to require describing in this place. Newsham used two cylinders ; and the following description of his fire engine will be read with much interest, when it is considered that, so perfect was his machine, at the expiration of above a century we still find it nearly as he left it. Various convenient alterations and improvements have in the course of this period been made in the details of this engine, but the general character and mode of construction adopted by Newsham have notyet been surpassed.

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