A CITY AS A CONFLAGRATION HAZARD.
V. C. Crosby, New York manager of the Royal Exchange, in a recent address dwelt upon the contlagration-hazard with special reference to cities: “Conflagrations (he said) are not confined to the United States. They have occurred in all parts of the world, and every large city is exposed to the possibility of such a disaster. It must be apparent to all that there is something radically wrong in the conditions existing in our cities; that the extra hazard caused by the large increase in height and area of buildings, the rapid extension of business into dwellmghouse sections, and, particularly, the enormous concentration of values have not been properly considered; and the frequency of large fires presents a question of tremendous importance to all underwriters. 1 venture to submit fur your consideration a few suggestions: hirst. V e must realise the conditions. From a conflagration viewpoint, a large portion of a city is one risk; consequently, tne only way to prevent a conflagration is never to let a lire reach the conflagration point. Expert ence has proved that, under conditions at present existing in our cities, when a lire becomes a conflagration, from the point where it starts and 111 the direction which it takes, it will burn (as long as there is anything to destroy) to the water front, the sand-dunes or an open field. I he best lire department in the world, with an unlimited supply of water, will not put out a conflagration; the most that can bei done is to coniine it to the direction which it takes; and dynamite -unless used with better judgment and discretion than at San Francisco or Baltimore had boter be thrown into the sea. Second. If we not to have these disasters in the future, we 1.1 »st prevent a lire reaching the condition of a conflagration. The improvement resulting from intelligent consideration of individual risks has reached such a stage of perfection that the destruction of a ‘standard’ plant is practically impossible; and we are insuring—at a profit—at one-fifth of one per cent., or less, risks we wrote not long ago at many times that rate, and at a loss. For years we have worked to increase the number of pails, standpipes and hydrants and add to the water supply, and yet the total destruction of risks continned without much diminution. Experience brought us another viewpoint and proved that tires could be controled only by eliminating as far as possible hazards and dangerous features, and then applying the fire extinguisher in the first stages of a fire. The automatic sprinkler, not the hose stream, was the dominant factor in the transformation. Third. Considering a city as one risk, a hazard or defect in one section is a danger to every other. An. unprotected opening to a bad exposure, an open elevator well or airshaft. a poorly constructed building, a hazardous occupancy, a ‘conflagration-breeder,’ are hazards, not simply to the building or block but to the entire city, and the entire city should be charged therefor. The property owner on Broadway or Thirtieth street should understand that lie may he vitally interested in the condition of a risk on the Bowery or Canal street. It would he presuming in me to present at this time specification for the proper adjustment of the large city’ problem. I will, however, suggest: (1) Underwriters should adopt a system for the proper study of the hazards of each city, considering the same as one risk, and along the same lines as they have in the past considered individual risks. (2,) They should inaugurate an intelligent, comprehensive campaign of education for underwriters and invite and urge the help and co-operation of architects and builders, taking the public into their confidence; and demonstrate to every property owner that it is a question in which he has a vital interest. In considering this problem, we should have constantly before us three important factors, remembering always that we are considering a city as one risk. First. The necessity for water ready at all times to extinguish a fire in its incipience. Every large lire or conflagration could have been prevented by a pail of water if applied at the right time. Backets of water and lire extinguishers are all good, and their use should he encouraged; but the best of all is the automatic sprinkler. The hose stream cannot penetrate to the centre of a great floor area; it cannot reach the top of a twenty-story building; Hut a sprinkler can he placed everywhere and be ready at all times to do its work. The automatic sprinkler will do more to solve the conflagration hazard than any other single factor. SecondVertical communication between floors—They should all be fully protected. Examine the record of every large lire and in almost every case it will read ‘lire started in basement for first floor) and spread rapidly to every floor through elevators (or airshafts).’ I believe the removal of vertical openings—except under standard conditions— would reduce our loss ratio in congested districts one-half. I hey are clearly defined as Vonflagra tunt breeders.’ I lut’d. Protection of openings towards exposures in all outside walls the Condit ns in this particular in nearly all of our cities are a constant menace front a conflagration viewpoint, It is a reflection on the construction of :r rating schedules and a sad comment on the intelligence of our architects and builders. In all T our cities we find exposures across narrow alleys and streets with little or no attempt at protection. In the city of New York alone there are about 1,500 ‘fireproof’ buildings, a large proportion in the congested district and badly exposed. I he protection of a shutter or wire glass is so rare as to he a real curiosity; yet experience has proved that buildings of this class in large tires without openings protected are little better than those of ordinary construction, and they have not in the past proved a barrier to a conflagration. I he same experience has indicated that, if these buildings had been protected by standard shutters or wire-glass, they would have materially retarded or acted as a harrier to the spreading lire. T he only building saved located in the track of the Baltimore fire was protected by wire-glass, and P’ere is a somewhat similar record in San Francisco. The problem is. how to get the public awakened to the danger and interested to thoroughly apply the three following remedies and before other conflagrations occur: (r) Automatic sprinklers in every mercantile and manufacturing risk, the first and most important consideration being to have water ready at all times to extinguish a fire when it first starts. (2) Communications between floors, that is, vertical openings made standard. If the automatic sprinklers for any reason do not fully extinguish a fire, wc have provided means for preventing its rapid spread and given the fire department a chance to work under favorable conditions. (3) All exposed openings in buildings, particularly including ‘fireproof’ buildings, protected by standard shut ters or wire-glass. If the automatic sprinkler is shut off or fails fully to extinguish the fire, if the fire department does not hold it in the building in which it originated, we have provided a bar rier where the fire department can probably make successful fight. I hese conditions do not require the rebuilding of a city or any part of it; neither do they involve heavy expense to any property owner, the prominent underlying purpose being to prevent, not to extinguish a conflagration.”
I om Sawyer, pioneer steamboat engineer, veteran volunteer fireman and one-time vigilante of San Francisco, recently died in that city. He was a friend of Mark Twain in his early days, and was so highly appreciated by him that he gave his famous hoy character the name of “Tom Sawyer.”