Why bother with the fire pole?
February 27, 2006 8:02 AM   Subscribe

Why do firefighters slide down a pole? Wouldn't it be easier to just have them wait on the same floor as the fire trucks?

Also, if the pole is so great, why don't they have them in Police stations, or hospitals? As undoubtedly cool as the pole is, does it really save that much time?
posted by flimjam to Society & Culture (22 answers total)
 
Related and interesting, but does not answer: Wikipedia.
posted by michaelkuznet at 8:08 AM on February 27, 2006


The difference is you don't need living/sleeping/cooking quarters for the police. Makes more sense, especially in dense cities, to stack these on top of the garages.

I had heard poles were being used less due to ankle injuries, but no idea if that is common practice.
posted by mikepop at 8:09 AM on February 27, 2006


This should be of some help

Unrelated
but just to toot my hometowns horn ('cus it needs all the help it can get)

*It was during this time period that Worcester became famous. The first brass sliding pole used in the country was in the city of Worcester in 1880. The wooden pole was invented by Chicago fireman David Kenyon in 1878, however the first brass pole appeared in Worcester.
posted by paxton at 8:10 AM on February 27, 2006


Well, they're are on their way out, mostly, as mikepop says, because of the cornacopia of injuries associated with having firefighters slide down these poles. Still they seem to be the fastest way to make it down a couple stories.
posted by Mercaptan at 8:13 AM on February 27, 2006


My dad was an Indianapolis firefighter. There was nothing cooler than visiting him at the station and watching him slide down the pole from upstairs. It's visions like that that make your dad your hero.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:45 AM on February 27, 2006


In NYC, at least, real estate is limited and expensive. Fire stations I see around here don't really have room for anything other than the garage on the first floor.

Dem trucks is BIG!

now, as to why "pole" and not "stairs", I have no idea...
posted by mkultra at 9:08 AM on February 27, 2006


mkultra: speed
posted by antifuse at 9:17 AM on February 27, 2006


Firestations were originally 2-story affairs. The top being the crew's sleeping quarters, and the ground floor being where they kept the horses and apparatus. Basically, a glorified stall.
As to why a pole...effectiveness. You can get a crew of men down to the ground floor faster with a pole than you can with stairs. If you've ever seen a crew of men come down the sliding pole, you'd be amazed at how fast it happens. Stairs are simply slower since you have to take steps and actually fight gravity on the way down. It's a uniquely American fastest-path solution.
And, in the business of firefighting, every second counts.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:18 AM on February 27, 2006


This is just speculation, but it seems to me the original need for having the firefighters on a different floor has to do with real estate. Way back when fire dept.s were first built, they were probably mostly in the center of the town, so they had to fit those big trucks in a plot of land the size of a normal house. With the entire ground floor needed as a garage, living/sleeping/etc. moved upstairs.

And sometimes downstairs. The firehouse in my home town has its own little bowling alley in the basement.

(on preview: like what mkultra said.)
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 9:18 AM on February 27, 2006


This may be completely apocryphal, but I seem to remember someone telling me it hailed from the days when there were fire horses, not fire trucks in the garage area. Stairs were a problem.... for some reason ? Maybe the horses tried to walk up them ? I'm not sure, but that's what I was told.... maybe snopes has something on this.
posted by GreenTentacle at 9:25 AM on February 27, 2006


It's a uniquely American fastest-path solution.

Is it? There's a scene in Bridget Jones' Diary where she slides down a fire station poll badly - that implies it's not uniquely American.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:33 AM on February 27, 2006



This may be completely apocryphal, but I seem to remember someone telling me it hailed from the days when there were fire horses, not fire trucks in the garage area. Stairs were a problem.... for some reason ? Maybe the horses tried to walk up them ? I'm not sure, but that's what I was told.... maybe snopes has something on this.


Not to be a killjoy, but how would the firefighters get to the second floor if there wasn't a staircase?
posted by cloeburner at 10:21 AM on February 27, 2006


Not that this was part of your question, but there's a small foundry in the Boston suburbs that now makes every firepole installed in the United States. Apparently they had one competitor at some point (until the 1970s, if I recall) but it's a small market!
posted by whatzit at 10:27 AM on February 27, 2006


It's a uniquely American fastest-path solution.

They certainly used to have them in the UK, too, although I'm not sure if they do any more (a search of the relevant Government department site didn't throw anything up). See here and here for starters.
posted by greycap at 10:28 AM on February 27, 2006


I actually remember something like what GreenTentacle was saying about horses and stairs, so I did a search. The first item is a NPR segment where they say firepoles were developed after someone noticed the firemen slid down the banisters that were used to lower hay from the hay-loft down to the horses, as a time saver.

Keep in mind the development of fire fighting in general. This used to be a loose effort amongst citizens. When the alert went out (different methods existed) citizens would show up with buckets and form a human chain to the nearest water source, passing the buckets of water back and forth as fast as possible. Towns and cities with larger budgets had the capital available to make this more efficient, so fire horses and fire houses developed in those places as a result. However the only towns and cities with such budgets would have been dense areas were space was a concern, hence the two story nature of things.

I suspect the firehouses in remote areas followed suit, partly because that was how things were done but also because it just seems to make more sense. Unless the living quarters are right next to the trucks there will be a hallway to go through, which removes the time advantage when compared to gravity. Another factor lies with the hayloft itself. A lot of fires started in the haylofts so it makes sense to keep the fire fighters near that place first, as they weren't much good if the firehouse burnt down.* Things probably stayed this way even after the invention of the firetrucks because the other option is equal to having a bedroom next to the garage with a door going between them, which doesn't sound safe or healthy.

* I've no idea of why anyone would go through the trouble of storing hay on the second floor though. The square bales can way 45lbs dry and 200lbs wet, so it seems like a lot of work. Rodents maybe?
posted by jwells at 10:58 AM on February 27, 2006


It's a lot faster to park your firefighters over the fire trucks than in a horizontally-adjacent part of the building, if you use a pole. Also, diesel exhaust tends to pool at the bottom of a space, so less of it would find its way into upstairs quarters.

I've no idea of why anyone would go through the trouble of storing hay on the second floor though.

Because the space at ground level is more valuable, from a utility standpoint. Things like firetrucks and their service equipment have to be at ground level; other stuff that doesn't can go up. Dairy barns typically store hay in an upper area (hayloft), because storing it on the ground level would reduce the area available for cows. Cows don't do well on ladders.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:53 AM on February 27, 2006


There was nothing cooler than visiting him at the station and watching him slide down the pole from upstairs.

The only thing cooler was being allowed to slide down the pole yourself :)
posted by mikepop at 12:18 PM on February 27, 2006


I've no idea of why anyone would go through the trouble of storing hay on the second floor though.

Hay wasn't baled until the middle of the 19th century- it was tossed up to the hayloft from the back of a haywagon. Still, it's easier to fill your hayloft twice a year than it is to get cows or horses to go upstairs every night- especial since cows can't go down stairs.

On the firepole note- it's a Bad Thing when no one comes to put out the fire because all the firefighters have fallen over each other down the stairs.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:56 PM on February 27, 2006


It's not the fastest way down. The fastest way down would be jumping through a hole. It is the most sexually suggestive way down, which is probably what has kept it in use.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2006


this seems like common sense to me... but maybe I am wrong.. you cant fit every thing on one floor and it would be fast to be ten feet up then 50 feet down the hall....
posted by crewshell at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2006


because they hope to run into Elizabeth Berkley on the way? (NSFW)
posted by rob511 at 2:06 PM on February 27, 2006


>dances_with_sneetches:
>It's not the fastest way down. The fastest way down
>would be jumping through a hole. It is the most
>sexually suggestive way down, which is probably
>what has kept it in use.

It's the fastest *safe* way down. You would lose a lot of guys having them just jump down a ten foot hole every day. I visited a fire station in France that had a pole, the upstairs was about 20' higher than the first floor.

Sailors on military ships do a variation on the same thing. When in a hurry they will slide down the handrails instead of walking down the steps.
posted by Ken McE at 6:14 PM on February 27, 2006


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