Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rough & Ready: Part One- Fire Extinguishers

My fascination with glass fire extinguishers goes back to my days as a site interpreter with the San Diego Historical Society (now the San Diego History Center). One of the house museums I gave tours of was the Villa Montezuma, an amazing Queen Ann Victorian built for an eccentric, Spiritualist pianist named Jesse Shepherd. In the basement kitchen, lining the counter, were a number of brightly colored "bottles" filled with clear fluid. They were fire grenade fire extinguishers.

I hadn't seen more of these beautiful glass fire extinguishers until I stepped into the Rough & Ready Firehouse Museum in Greenwich, NY during the Whipple City Festival in 2010, but I didn't have a camera with me (& I wouldn't own a smart phone for another 3 years). So, last month, I made sure I walked down to the museum during Whipple City Days to snap some pics. Gary St. Mary met my mom & I outside & walked us around the main floor talking about the various artifacts, & chatting about the locals, then & now.

Rough & Ready Firehouse Museum, Greenwich, NY

Fire grenades were invented in England in the late 1700s & became very popular in the US when Alanson Crane obtained a patent around 1870. They were used widely for the next 40 years until gradually replaced by metal canister extinguishers filled with refrigerant. The idea behind the glass fire grenade extinguisher was simple. A glass container was filled with fluid, typically carbon tetrachloride (CCI4) until it was discovered to cause respiratory problems, & was changed to less effective salt water. Thrown at the base of the fire, the fluid spilled from the broken container, & extinguished the flames.


Harden Hand Fire Extinguisher Company of Chicago, IL

Harden Hand Fire Extinguisher Company of Chicago, IL appears to be the most common of these US made extinguishers. They are typically blue in color with either a quilted diamond pattern, or a star with vertical ribs. They were generally one pint or 1 1/2 pints in volume.

The red "light bulbs" a common extinguisher from 1900-1920, & came in a six pack. These had a spring release that would cause a metal arm to break the glass when the fusible link melted in the fire. 

Fire extinguishers at the Rough & Ready in Greenwich, NY




 For more information check out the Antique Shoppe. & be careful if you have any of these glass fire extinguishers. You probably won't know if you have one filled with a potent chemical like carbon tetrachloride. So handle with care. A leak could require a HazMat Team.


This post is Part One in a series about the artifacts in the Rough & Ready Firehouse Museum in Greenwich, NY.

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