Cities experienced tremendous growth in the 20th century, bringing increased
prosperity to America and attracting more and more people to urban centers. As
cities became more sophisticated and their infrastructures more complex, it
became apparent that a unique set of national standards would be necessary to
ensure the safety of city dwellers.
In 1904, a fire broke out in the basement of the John E. Hurst & Company
Building in Baltimore. After taking hold of the entire structure, it leaped
from building to building until it engulfed an 80-block area of the city. To
help combat the flames, reinforcements from New York, Philadelphia and
Washington, DC immediately responded—but to no avail. Their fire hoses could
not connect to the fire hydrants in Baltimore because they did not fit the
hydrants in Baltimore. Forced to watch helplessly as the flames spread, the
fire destroyed approximately 2,500 buildings and burned for more than 30 hours.
It was evident that a new national standard had to be developed to prevent a
similar occurrence in the future. Up until that time, each municipality had its
own unique set of standards for fire fighting equipment. As a result, research
was conducted of over 600 fire hose couplings from around the country and one
year later a national standard was created to ensure uniform fire safety
equipment and the safety of Americans nationwide.
Excerpted from "A Look From Yesterday to Tomorrow on the Building of Our Safety
Infrastructure," by Casey C. Grant, P.E., National Fire
Protection Association (Presented at NIST Centennial Standards Symposium, March
National Fire Protection Agency
International and the
National Safety Council.