A PLEA FOR BETTER PROTECTION OF LIFE AND PROPERTY.
[Written for FIRE AND WATER by
THE best manner of preventing the fearful and increasing destruction of life and property by fire is a question in which insurance companies, firemen, and the general public, is daily becoming more and more interested, and which they are anxiously waiting to have answered. Chief Bonner, of New York, and Chief Swenie, of Chicago, two of the most eminent authorities in such matters, have recently stated, according to your journal, that “ the so-called fireproof buildings, not only fail to protect the lives and property of the occupants, but are a source of the greatest danger, to the lives of the brave firemen, who are obliged to enter these veritable deathtraps in the discharge of the duty.”
Having for several years past given the subject of better protection of life and property from fire a careful study, in which I have been cordially aided by leading architects, builders, and firemen, I am induced to suggest some protection plans, that are simple, practical, and not too expensive for general use, either in new buildings or old buildings that are to be altered, now so generally built higher, without any proper strengthenings of the structure to resist fire or to sustain the additional weight of machinery or goods stored in the building. The plans which 1 suggest are: First, that in new constructions,the inside walls, the partitions, and the arches on which the floors rest, shall be as far as possible of brick, or some fire-proof material, and all iron work to be covered with brick or heavy terra cotta.
Secondly:that every story shalljie made into a separate compartment by permanent or fireproof fire-stops, at each landing,or divisions of the building,so that no fire or smoke can go from one story to another, either above or below the point where the fire originates.
Thirdly, for exit in case of fire, separate tower, or compartment staircases inclosed in brick, shall be connected with each story by fireproof vestibules or hall ways, the stairs running to the ground or a safe place of exit, and all elevators to be inclosed in fireproof inclosures, brick if possible, with self-closing traps at each floor.
Staircases to be built in separate compartments as far as possible. No matter what the height of the building, this plan is easily possible,and is recommended by all the leading building inspectors in this country as the only safe method of life-protection. By these tower staircases, which can be made in various forms, the firemen can instantly reach any story and high points where the use of ladders would be impossible. The fire extinguishing apparatus of the building should be mainly located in the tower, or the compartment stairways,where it can be instantly used to put out the fire, and afford a safe retreat for the inmates. It would, in fact, be a permanent water tower with cither tank or standpipe connections—with steam fire engines at the ground it would be possible, with two steamers attached to one standpipe, to throw water to a great height, far above the point now possible.
Fourthly,buildings should always have fireproof shutters 011 the sides that are exposed to fire from adjoining buildings. In the late Manhattan Bank fire in New York city the danger from adjoining buildings was clearly shown. All buildings where large amounts of merchandise stand, should have shutters on all sides.
Persons interested in this subject can see superior inclosed staircases on the Metropolitan Opera House, and two tower staircases on the very high Waldorf Hotel building in New York city. In Philadelphia a large number of these tower staircases have already been constructed under a state law passed in 1893.
The best recommendation that can be given to the system I advocate is, that it can be easily adjusted to old, as well as new constructions, and it will make a building of ordinary construction safer for life or property than the high fireproof buildings, with spaces for stairways and elevators that are now open from basement to the top of the building, with no fire-stops to prevent the instant spread of flames and smoke throughout the entire structure, every added story increasing the danger to life.
I think that no substantial advance in protection of buildings or life can be made except by the use of protected stairways and compartment construction. In the continental cities of Europe, where compartment construction is enforced, there arc no conflagrations or loss of life from Arc, and it is a matter of surprise to me that our insurance companies, with a loss of about ‡150,000,000 yearly, have not long ago insisted that safer build, ing methods, well known to all intelligent architects, should have been required.
It is time that all the building inspectors in this country should interest themselves in securing city ordinances and state laws to protect far better the interest of the people they represent. Some of them have dona good work in this direction already, and the others will find the people will gladly aid them in getting all the protective laws possible. Until there is a combined and determined effort made to secure better protective building laws, in all the states of the Union, there will be little diminution in the terrible loss of life and property now daily going on in all parts of the country. Efforts should be made this winter to secure legislation in the State of New York for both the city and state, that will result in improved building laws, and safer buildings throughout the state in the future.