Earlier in April a photo did the rounds of social media, which showed a fire hose passing over a railway crossing, with plastic humps put over the top in an attempt to allow trains to pass by. The most popular version of the photo on Twitter was posted on April 7, and has since received over 11 thousand retweets, and almost 5 thousand favourites.
Friend just emailed me this. In his words: "I'm not a train expert, but I'm pretty sure this isn't going to work…" pic.twitter.com/L0RF30WabM
— Denny (@denny) April 6, 2014
Much discussion ensued about what country the photo was taken in, and whether the fire fighters had a clue about what they were doing.
As it happens, the photo was taken in Belgium by a fire fighter named Tom Bongaerts, who posted it to Facebook on April 5:
And the reason for the hose over the tracks – it was a prank played by the fire brigade, as Tom writes in a follow up post:
Hey, this past week our funny photo went viral throughout the whole world. Thousands of shares and likes in many different countries! Once and for all: the picture was taken in Belgium, in a small village called Bornem.
After a minor intervention, we had some time left near the railway to make this picture. Since there were no trains running at all for a week due to maintenance works, we can state that our joke was a real success! Thanks to our entire team, 2nd sqdn Firefighters Bornem!
Back in the real world, a fire hose over the tracks doesn’t cause any trouble to a passing train – just a chopped hose.
The cause of this incident in the United States was the fire department calling up the wrong railroad company to stop the trains.
Fire hoses are unlikely to bother trains because they cross roads on an infrequent basis, but trams are a different matter – they run down the middle of ordinary streets lined with buildings, increasing the probably of an encounter with the local fire brigade.
In 1895 a Samuel B. Sweeney came up with a solution – US patent 556382 for a ‘Street-car bridge for protection of fire-hose’ – allowing normal tram services to keep running while avoiding the hose damage seen in the video above.
Usage of hose bridges soon spread, as this scan from the 1926 ‘Ohio Brass Company’ catalog shows:
Designed as a ‘knock down’ kit of parts, the bridge was intended to be stored with a tramway’s emergency equipment wagon, allowing it to be deployed as needed whenever fire hoses blocked normal services.
A photo of an electric tramcar on the Richmond, Virginia system of the late 1880’s traversing a hose bridge – note the perilous angle!