Dover, NH Cocheco Mfg Fire, 1907 - Insurance Report


1907 Cocheco Manufacturing Co.
Loss, $480,000
Dover, New Hampshire. Cotton Mill.

About 6.20 A. M. a sprinkler on the fourth floor of the mill broke open from unknown cause and the water supply for sprinklers in one half of the mill was shut off by closing a valve in the first story of the tower. A few minutes later fire was seen around a belt box in the third story about under this sprinkler, and word was immediately sent to the watchman to open the closed valve. The fire spread very rapidly up through the greasy belt boxes, fanned by moving belts, before the engine could be stopped, and ran over the loose stock in the rooms unchecked by sprinklers, as the watchman became confused by the operatives rushing from the mill, and the valve controlling the supply to sprinklers was not opened for ten to fifteen minutes.

The public water was of good pressure and capacity, there was ample pump service, and pumps and hose streams were quickly put in operation. A large number of sprinklers opened before the water was turned on and when the valve was opened the sprinklers took so much water that the pressure dropped too low to supply good hose streams. This valve was then closed and opened at about three-minute intervals for about two hours, to give the hose streams and the sprinklers water alternately.

The public department was called at once and a steam fire engine came from Portsmouth. Twelve to eighteen hose streams were used. The thermometer was below zero, hose lines froze if water was shut off for a few minutes, and fire fighting was difficult.

The rapid spread of the fire at the start and the quick filling of the mill with smoke caught some of the operatives so that several jumped from windows and five were overcome and died. There were ample exits, but probably an attempt to get clothing caused some operatives to delay in starting out or tempted them to return, which proved fatal.

About 8 A. M. the roof began to fall and was soon destroyed. Hose streams were used from the tower standpipes with good effect. The rapid spread of the fire was checked by noon, but it continued to break out until the next day, requiring ten to twelve hose streams. The fourth and fifth stories were badly burned, fire getting between the double beams proved very difficult to extinguish and the beams finally broke, letting down the floors. The burning was very serious around the main belt drive. The first, second and third stories were mainly saved and in the end the whole damage to the building was repaired for about $75,000--- the great loss coming on machinery and stock.

The fire was probably caused by the friction of a main belt rubbing against the boxing, the belt having possibly slipped on account of being wet with water from the sprinkler which first opened.

In the first twelve hours of the fire about four million gallons of water were used and before it was finally extinguished about eight million gallons of were thrown on to it. There is little doubt but that the fire would have been confined to small limits had the water been on the sprinklers at the start. The lessons were:

1. The danger of large belt openings through floors. Again showing that slow burning construction means tight floors as well as solid plank and timber.
2. The danger in a large mill while sprinklers are shut off.
3. Unsprinklered wooden belt boxes and fly-wheel housings unavoidably somewhat greasy, are fire breeders.
4. The advantage of ample pumping capacity and water supply.
5. The disadvantage of double beams with space between.

1860--fifty Years--1910: Arkwright mutual fire insurance company, 1912, pages 99-101