Fire Hose Coupling Standardization
by Doug Welch,
Town of Manchester Fire Department Historian and Retired Firefighter

Bucket brigades were the common method of firefighting until the mid 1800's when fire hose became quite common and towns were forming organized fire departments, like larger cities had done years earlier. As more and more hose manufacturers entered the market place, they each manufactured their own thread size and spacing for the couplings, encouraging fire departments to continue purchasing hose from their company. In 1873 this problem was addressed at the first convention of the International Association of Fire Engineers. The association adopted the standard size of a '71U2' thread. Even though this was adopted as a standard, the change was slow in coming since so many couplings were already in use out in the field and cities did not want to spend the money to change over all their hose. There were no serious problems as long as the various departments fought fires within their own boundaries, but in the early 1900's with the advent of mutual aid, the various thread sizes became an issue.

In our day, we would respond wherever and whenever called. We would jump off the engine and hook up to whatever hydrant or hose line we were told problem. But this was not always the case! In Manchester, the problem first surfaced in 1909 when the Hartford Fire Department was called to South Manchester to assist at the Oak Hall fire on Main Street. Even though they were later recalled and did not respond, Hartford Board of Fire Commissioners member Horace B. Clark and Hartford Fire Chief Krug, who were at the fire, realized that there was a potential problem and began working on a solution. The Hartford Fire Department soon had adapters made for their department to be used in the event other towns responded into Hartford for emergencies. John C. Moran of the Hartford Fire Department had several dozen sets made which were marked with the name of the town for which they were to be used. Hartford and New Britain couplings differed just enough to make it hard to use and Middletown and Rockville required adapters to work with other departments.

The threat of bombings and fires during the first World War caused the Connecticut State Council of Defense to make recommendations in 1918 concerning the compatibility of fire hose couplings should different departments find themselves working together. The Council wished to come up with a solution once and for all. Following the council's recommendations, the South Manchester Fire Department promised to give the matter of changing their hose to the "standard" serious consideration. To aid any change over, the State Council of Defense arranged to secure standardized couplings for $5.75 each on orders in excess of 350 pieces, and towns were given an opportunity to buy them at this rate.

In November, 1922, the South Manchester Fire Department sent its newly purchased Ahrens Fox pumping engine to Hilliard Street to assist the Manchester Fire Department at a serious fire behind their fire station in the Manchester Herald building. One outcome of the fire was a renewed interest in purchasing the 'correct' fire hose. The threads on the north and south end fire hose couplings at the time were not compatible. Adapters had to be used at fires to mate the north and south end departments' hose. Fortunately, a year before the Manchester Herald fire, Eighth School and Utilities District President Dr. F. A. Sweet had contacted South Manchester Fire Chief O. J. Atwood concerned over the incompatibility of their fire hose couplings. The fire hose used by the Manchester Fire Department was of the type labeled as 'standard' at the time, being used by the larger cities such as Hartford, while the South Manchester department required the use of adapters to couple up to North Manchester or Hartford hose.

The standardization of fire hose couplings began in earnest when a conference and demonstration were staged in Hartford on January 4, 1923 by the National Board of Fire Underwriters and the International Association of Fire Engineers (a fire chiefs' organization). Their recommendations were taken seriously after operations under the Hartford County Mutual Aid pact began encountering incidents of hose coupling incompatibility at fires. The adoption of a "national standard" thread had already been taken up by thirteen states and had begun in three more. It was determined that the change for most of the Connecticut departments could be done for a minimal expense using 'special tools', and this fact encouraged the proponents of the move to be hopeful the change would be accomplished statewide. Neither the north or south Manchester departments were in compliance with the new "national standard".

At a meeting a week after the conference and demonstration in Hartford, attended by fire officials and fire insurance companies, the Eighth School and Utilities District directors voted to bring their department into conformity with the national standard. The department was awaiting delivery of a new motorized pumper at the time and new hose would have to be purchased when it was delivered. They decided that the time was right to make any changes necessary to come into compliance, presumably being the first department in the state to make the commitment to standardization. The change actually held up the delivery of the new pumper a few days while changes were made to it. Updating involved not only the couplings on the hose, but also the pumping apparatus discharge gates and the hydrant couplings. It turned out that, according to the Hartford Courant, the Manchester Fire Department's early conversion to the updated standard was not the first. Rockville has the distinction of being the first to have standardized couplings. They had an emergency arising from a serious fire in that city, necessitating the purchase of a large quantity of the new standardized hose.

By November, 1923 work had begun on the coupling conversion in South Manchester. The couplings and fittings of the South Manchester Fire Department did not conform to the 'national standard' dimensions. Hydrant outlets, hydrant caps, hose couplings, nozzles and miscellaneous connections had to be altered. The hose change amounted to about 10,000 feet of hose. The hose and equipment was altered first. It was then found that the new standardized fittings connected with 400 or so old hydrant outlets sufficiently well that the use of adapters was not needed. The private hydrants of the Cheney Brothers' Silk Mills were also adapted to the new standard. The hydrants and hose at the mills of Manchester Green and Highland Park were outfitted with adapters, permitting the use of either public or private equipment until they were eventually standardized.

The work involved in changing over 23 or so fire hydrants apparently caused the South Manchester Water Company to rethink their arrangement with the South Manchester Fire District. Since the formation of the fire department in 1898, the water supplied by the water company had been supplied free of charge. In December, 1924, however, the commissioners of the fire district signed an agreement with the water company for an annual rental for the hydrants of $12,000 per year for a term of twenty-five years. The fee became effective January 1, 1925.

September, 2010