From Living Water.
Thom Vaught has provided background information to one of the most terrible fires in the history of the United States:
It was a chilly Sunday morning on February 7, 1904. The firemen of Engine Co. 15 were expecting a quiet day as they readied for inspection. Their routine was interrupted by an automated fire alarm at 10:48 a.m. in the John Hurst and Company building. These men were answering the first call of the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.
Once the Fire Chief was on the scene, he quickly realized the danger... He called in nearly the entire Baltimore City Fire Department to fight the fire but even that was not enough to contain the persistent flames.
A plea for help went out to areas surrounding Baltimore...Firefighters from Washington DC were the first to arrive. Upon arrival they were dismayed to find out that their fire hose couplings would not fit the fire hydrants. Baltimore, like most cities of that day, had their own standard by which fire hydrants and fire-fighting equipment were manufactured. As firefighters arrived, they tried to adapt to this different standard but the lowered water pressure and leaks continued to impact their ability to help. Firefighters from as far away as Philadelphia and New York City answered the call but each time the story was the same. The lack of a standard caused confusion and the resulting efforts were less effective.
The Great Baltimore Fire raged across the city for two days... It destroyed over 1,500 buildings covering nearly 70 city blocks.
In a report presented to Congress, the lack of a uniform standard was cited as a major contributing factor to the massive destruction. Congress tasked the fledgling National Bureau of Standards now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to investigate the matter. They discovered around 600 different sizes for fire equipment in use throughout the nation. As a result, the organization established a national standard for fire equipment.