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Fire Water!


An article written for the Fire Museum Network's web site by David Lewis, March 1, 1999
If this article is to be reproduced please credit the Fire Museum Network AND the original source.



Fire Water!? - No, I'm not talking about rural tanker operations, some new firefighting foam compound, or even getting water out of the booster tank. I'm talking about alcohol, liquor, beer, you know - BOOZE!

One verse of a poem written in the 1850s about the joys of being going to fires and being associated with a fire companies states,

“...and when the fire was mostly quenched,
and the smoke obscured the stars,
Some trump with open heart would treat,
to lager and cigars...”
- from, "Runners Lament" by an anonymous poet - 1854

While firemen have frequently been known to enjoy a little libation after a fire, and some legends say that they have even filled their boots with beer to ward off frozen toes during cold winter fires, who would have thought alcohol could be used to extinguish more than your thirst?

In 1890 the Fabric Fire Hose Company published a lighthearted booklet touting the benefits of the company's new superior woven linen fire hose over other older types of hose. The advertising piece is filled with slogans and cartoons which try and bring this point home to prospective fire chiefs. One comic strip entitled “Bad Hose Drives Men to Drink” shows a brewery in flames and no water supply. Firemen draft from a beer vat, and then end up drinking the "fire water" when the inferior hose bursts. Little did the Fabric Fire Hose Company know that fifteen years later beer would in fact be used to quench a fire.

click here to see cartoon - Bad Hose Drives Men to Drink


In the early 1900s, the rough and tumble frontier town of Goldfield Nevada, had a population of about 2,000 and was served by a fledgling fire company. Several shallow wells and a 12,000 gallon tank supplied the town's water, yet an earlier fire proved this was woefully inadequate. On July 8, 1905, a fire broke out and quickly spread to adjacent structures....

I'll let Phillip Earl, Curator, Nevada Historical Society finish telling the tale...

The fire began in the Bon Ton Millinery on Columbia Street just after 5 p.m. The firemen arrived moments later and began stretching lines of hose from the hydrant, but found that they had no water pressure. Householders in the surrounding neighborhood, fearing that the blaze would reach their homes, were filling every bucket and tub they could find. By the time the men got that situation under control, the flames had spread to business houses from Ramsey Street to Meyer Street and from Columbia to Crook, but all was not lost. As the last trickle of water from the tank dribbled out, Bert Ulmer of the Little Hub Saloon arrived on the scene with two large kegs of beer. When his bartender, Frank Heaton, got there with a stock of blankets and sheets, the pair set to work soaking the materials in the golden liquid and nailing them to the walls of various business houses, one of which was the Enterprise Merchantile Co., a stone structure, which they hoped to keep cool enough to prevent the outbreak of fire inside. Other volunteers got on the roof and laid down beer-soaked tenting while another energetic crew saved the Oxford Restaurant with buckets of the brew.

Barkeepers who had never stood a round of drinks in their entire lives were soon rolling out dozens of full kegs and cases of unopened bottles, the latter to be used by the firemen to quench fire-induced thirsts or soothe parched, cracked lips. The beer also worked well enough to prevent the clothing of the men from catching fire and dozens of beer-soaked Goldfielders were soon sloshing around in the flames as billows of acrid smoke wafted the reek of hops over the smoldering rooftops.

The spread of the fire was checked within an hour, but the stench of stale beer emanated from cracks and crannies all over the downtown section for weeks afterwards. Those men passing by did not mind, however, taking deep, appreciative whiffs, just as though it were the finest Parisian perfume. For this was the beer that saved Goldfield.

Excerpted from "Beer Saves Town of Goldfield from Raging Fire."
by
Phillip Earl, Curator - Nevada Historical Society
North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Wednesday Feb. 10, 1999

 


Bad Fire Hose Drives Men to Drink
Reprinted from a advertising flyer printed in 1890 by the "The Fabric Fire Hose Co."

Chapter I.

The Brewery On Fire


Chapter II.

No Water


Chapter III.

Despair


Chapter IV.

Try Beer


Chapter V.

Taking Suction


Chapter VI,

Bad Hose - Good Beer!


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