A Catastrophe and a Lesson

A Catastrophe and a Lesson

The sad accident—if it can be called an accident— which occurred in Philadelphia on July 12, in which a captain and five firemen lost their lives in the performance of their duties, was a most regrettable affair, and one which should call for the most rigid investigation by the authorities. It would seem, judging from the report of Acting-Chief Ross B. Davis of the fire department, which is published in another column, that the floors of the building—which, by the way, was an ancient one, being over seventy years old -were very much overloaded with large quantities of cement, and burlap bagging. The fire, it seems, was in the center of the third story, and the burning away of one of the pillars supporting the joist of the floor above, so weakened these timbers that they were unable to sustain the overweight upon them, and gave way. Once started, such an avalanche of material as this collapse let loose could have hut one result, and the floors were precipitated one upon another until the whole mass crashed to the cellar, burying the unfortunate firemen who were on duty. The only miracle, as Chief Davis expressed it, was that only six lost their lives. As usual, those most to blame tried to “pass the buck” and put the blame upon the fire department, claiming that the amount of water pumped into the building caused the material stored there to swell, and that the added weight resulted in the collapse. Whether there was any truth in this claim or not, the fact remains that the floors of the building were very much overloaded, and the firemen’s lives were sacrificed through this violation of the law. The fire fighting profession is hazardous enough under ordinary conditions, and there should he no unnecessary dangers added to this calling that could and should he avoided. According to Acting-Chief Davis’s report, “we have in various sections of the city numerous other old buildings which are in the same condition, particularly in this section. I feel that if we use this as a lesson of warning in having these conditions corrected in other buildings, the members of the bureau killed at this fire will not have lost their lives in vain.” The conditions referred to in this report should he taken up immediately, and steps taken to avoid the repetition of the Potash Brothers’ catastrophe.

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