Fire Poles

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An American view of the history of the fire pole:
A fireman’s pole (also called a sliding pole, fire pole, or tom) is a wooden pole or a metal tube or pipe installed between floors in fire stations, allowing firefighters responding to an alarm to quickly descend to the ground floor faster than by using a standard staircase.
The device was invented in the 1870s by David Kenyon, in Chicago, Illinois.
Firefighters usually remain above the ground floor of fire stations until they receive a call for help, after which they descend, don their firefighting gear, and board the fire engine as quickly as possible.
Until 1878, spiral staircases or sliding chutes were common, but not particularly fast. Fire houses were also equipped with spiral staircases so the horses would not try to climb the stairs into the living quarters.
The fireman’s pole allows firefighters to move down much more quickly, although it is not suitable for climbing up. The pole connects the ground floor to the ceiling of the floor above through a hole in the ground floor ceiling.
To use a pole, a firefighter puts his/her arms around it, steps into the hole, and uses his/her legs to control the speed of the descent, somewhat similarly to the technique used for fast-roping.
Capt. David B. Kenyon of Chicago’s Engine Company No. 21 (an all-black engine company) worked in a three-story fire station; the ground floor containing the firefighting equipment, the floor above being the floor for recreation and sleeping, and the top floor being the hayloft which was used to store the winter supply of hay for the fire engines’ horses.
During transport, the hay was secured to a wagon using a wooden binding pole, which was stored in the hayloft when not in use. Firefighter George Reid slid down the pole to respond to a call for help once, which inspired Captain David Kenyon to create a permanent pole.
In 1878 he convinced the Chief of Department to make the necessary hole in the building and install the pole, after agreeing to pay for any necessary maintenance. The Company crafted a pole out of a Georgia pine beam by shaving and sanding it into a 3″ diameter pole which they gave several coats of varnish and a coat of paraffin.
After being the target of many jokes, people realized Company 21 was usually the first company to arrive when called, especially at night, and the Chief of Department ordered the poles to be installed in all Chicago fire stations. In 1880 the first brass pole was installed in the Boston Fire Department.
Safety issues:
Losing one’s grip on the pole can result in falling from a great height; the firefighter may hit an object such as a door extending from a truck; poor speed control can result in injured or even broken legs upon impact with the floor; and burns can occur due to friction against the pole.
Slide poles can be made safer. Cushions can be placed around the base of the pole to soften landings. Other safety features include railings, baskets or closets that surround part of the opening, weight-activated doors that open only when weight is applied to the pole to prevent accidental falls, and exhaust control systems that prevent fumes from the apparatus bay from coming into the living quarters.
Despite the strong tradition and time advantage of slide poles, the National Fire Protection Association has called for the removal of all poles from US fire stations due to safety hazards.
Many cities have removed poles from their stations, but some new multilevel fire stations include slide poles with appropriate safety features.
Sourced from: Wikipedia

If you have any interesting anecdotes regarding the fire pole or knowledge of the history in the UK and in particular in Kent, please let us know through: info@kentfirefightingmuseum.org.uk

7 Comments

  1. hoolig
    5th October 2015 at 6:39 am

    I never had a problem using a pole in 25 years, just take care

    • hoolig
      7th October 2015 at 6:45 am

      Is this site manned ?

      • hmyers
        hmyers
        7th October 2015 at 8:31 am

        Yes, but because others lead very buy lives sometimes it takes a while to approve comments & make replies.

  2. hoolig
    7th October 2015 at 4:55 am

    What have American fire poles got to do with a Kent site ?

    • hmyers
      7th October 2015 at 8:29 am

      The origins of fire poles are all related & some people may find the history interesting.Sometimes we just have to look outside the box.

  3. hoolig
    7th October 2015 at 11:59 am

    I thought this Forum was for the KFB, I serve in the BDE for 25 years, I retired in 1980 after 25 years,

  4. hmyers
    7th October 2015 at 2:21 pm

    All the forums/blogs are open to everyone who register to log in. All submissions are vetted for content before adding to the blog. That way we can keep out any inappropriate stuff & hopefully encourage a wider range of topics to be forthcoming.

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