The Firepole: How Firefighters move quickly
In keeping up with our Fire Themed Blogs in honor of our Fire Station Contest, another iconic part of a fireperson’s life is the fire pole, a wooden pole or a metal tube or pipe installed between floors in fire stations. It allows firefighters to respond to an alarm and quickly descend to the ground floor faster than by using a standard staircase. In movies and TV shows we see firefighters slide down the pole effortlessly to race to a burning inferno.
In the movie Mr. Deeds, Adam Sandler’s character confesses that when he was a little boy he wanted to grow up to be a firefighter. Not for the money, he continues, but because he wanted to slide down those “wicked poles.” The device was invented in the 1870s by David Kenyon, in Chicago, Illinois, although it is often incorrectly credited to the Boston Fire Department. In fire stations, firefighters usually remain above the ground floor until they receive a call, afterwards they have to descend gear up, and board the fire engine as quickly as possible. Before David Kenyon, spiral staircases or sliding chutes were most common, but they were not the fasts means. Fun fact: Spiral staircases were installed in older fire houses to keep horses from reaching the living quarters.
Safety Issues These poles actually involve a finesse. The firefighter must control his or her descent with their own body as they travel downwards. Losing your grip on the pole can result in falling from a great height. Poor speed control may lead to injured or even broken legs upon impact with the ground floor. Sometimes burns can even occur due to friction against the pole. Cushions are sometimes placed around the base of the pole to soften landings. Despite the strong tradition and time advantage of the firepole, the National Fire Protection Association has called for the removal of all poles from U.S. fire stations due to safety hazards. Many cities have removed the poles from their stations, but some new multilevel stations include firepoles with some modified safety features.
In New Zealand, there is a policy that existing poles should not be used and that no new fire stations have them installed. As a result, most new stations are designed and built with only a single level. In some of the older stations, such as the historic buildings with three levels, firefighters on the top floor may still use the pole because they still serve their purpose in being the fastest way to reach the ground level.