|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.
Where there is smoke there's
fire. Conversely, where there is fire there's
smoke. We all know fire is not the primary killer
- it is the deadly smoke.
are given two basic approached to overcoming
smoke - filtering the smoke out of the air,
or bringing fresh air with them into the fire.
Legend has it that mustaches on firefighters
of the mid 1800s were more than just a common
hair style - they were a personal protective
device! Firemen were reported to wet their mustaches,
curl up their lower lip, and breath air through
the impromptu filter system. Unfortunately there
is no recorded evidence of exactly how well
this practice worked.
Ad from The National Fireman's Journal
Several devices were patented in the 1860s
and 1870s. Lacour's "Improved Respiring Apparatus"
consisted of an air tight bag made of two thicknesses
of canvass, lined with India rubber. Carried
on the back, this bag was filled with pure air
inflated with a pair of bellows. Another device
filled not an bag won on the fireman's back
- but rather inflated special pockets in a fire-proof
jacket, (making the firefighter look like he
is a giant marshmallow man). Nealy's "Smoke
Excluding Mask", looking like a close relative
of Darth Vader's mask, filtered smoky air through
moist sponges and a water bag worn around the
Illustration of Nealy's "Smoke Excluding
The National Fireman's Journal
December 8, 1877
The 1890s saw the development of one of the
most successful and common "smoke masks" --
the Vajen-Bader. I will let the following articles
finish telling the story....
A SMOKE HELMET SAVES
A HUMAN LIFE
the Fireman's Herald March
With the aid of a Vajen-Bader patent
smoke protector Fireman " Billy" West,
of truck 1, saved the life of Mrs. H.
Roberts, who was overcome by smoke on
the afternoon of March 11 in a burning
house at 7I3-717 Central street, Kansas
The fire, which started
at 4:30 o'clock from a cigar stump thrown
into a light shaft by a careless boarder,
bad spread to the second and third stories
of the building before the Fire Department
were called. Soon after the firemen
began pouring water on the building,
Mrs. Roberts opened the window of her
room on the second story on Central
Street. She was choking with smoke and
prepared to jump to the sidewalk below.
Fireman West cried to her to wait until
he could carry her out. Then he pulled
a Vajen-Bader helmet over his head and
ran up the stairway to the second floor.
The smoke was so dense that be could
only feel his way along the halls. When
he neared the door of Mrs. Roberts's
room he stumbled over her body, which
lay across the hall. She had started
for the stairway, had succumbed under
the effects of the smoke and had fallen
senseless to the floor. Fireman West
carried her down the stairway into the
Street, where, in the fresh air, she
soon recovered from the effects of the
smoke. The second and third stories
of the house were gutted by the fire.
Upon reaching the street with Mrs. Roberts,
Fireman West was greeted with cheers
by the immense crowd that had assembled
to witness the fire.
A SUCCESSFUL INVENTOR
Reprinted from the Fireman's Herald September 9, 1897
We present herewith a picture of Mr. Willis C. Vajen, of Indianapolis,
Ind. the successful inventor of the Vajen smoke protector. As we have mentioned
before, no test of a fire appliance attracted as much attention at the Chiefs'
convention in New Haven as the test of the Vajen-Bader smoke helmet. There
are very few departments of prominence in this country where the helmet
is not in use, and the fire departments of Dublin, Guttenberg, Sweden; Valpariso,
Chili; Saporo, Japan; and Wellington, New Zealand, are using them with entire
The helmet is made of a chamois leather specially prepared
so that fire and water are equally without injurious effect upon it, and
is heavily padded about the lower part with fleece, through which the exhaled
air works out gradually, acting as a pressure stop against the entrance
of outside air. The air for respiration is furnished from a compact compression
tank attached to the back of the helmet, and is fed at atmospheric pressure.
The temperature secured by the escape of the air from its confined to normal
pressure is always at least twenty degrees lower than the temperature of
the surrounding atmosphere. The eye pieces are of mica, giving clear sight,
and diaphragms of the same at the ear holes transmit sound perfectly and
at the same time serve for side lights when occasion presents, as the head
is perfectly free to turn about inside the helmet.
Mr. Willis C.
Vajen, the inventor, has taken ten years to perfect the device, and has
now been making it for sale something over a year. His success in the production
is properly a source of much gratification. Mr. Vajen is evidently possessed
of a good deal of natural ingenuity. In explaining the discovery that it
was possible to make a mica diaphragm transmit vocal sounds to the ear recently,
he happened to mention the fact that in 1876 he first used mica in a, sort
of crude transmitter to what has since been called a telephone between his
front and back office in his hardware store at Indianapolis. That was before
the date of the introduction of the diaphragm transmitter now regularly
applied to use in the telephone, phonograph and similar instruments.