A Plea for the Architect.
It is not unreasonable that in a case of faulty design or construction in a building the general public should place the responsibility for the defects upon the architect from whose plans and under whose supervision it was built. A little thought, however, will show that in a great number of instances, and especially where the defects lie in the direction of insufficient measures for fire prevention, this is manifestly unjust to the architect. In commenting upon the non-fireproof construction of the Stewart Building, at Broadway and Ninth street, New York, in which what threatened to be a very serious fire was recently so very handsomely stopped by the fire department, Chief Bonner is reported to have said :
“ If a fire once really got a headway in that place it would prove dangerous, and simply by reason of the construction of the building. The building occupies an entire block, and in none of the floors is there a partition wall, the whole immense floor surface on each of the six stories being broken by the wall of a circular airshaft in the centre. If fire once got in there it would sweep through each floor in a second, for there would be nothing to stay its course by confining it to a certain narrow section. The fire we have just put out appeared in the basement. I am thankful that it did not reach the first story floor.”
The blame for the faulty construction of this and similar buildings he is stated to have charged to the architects, who seemingly neglect in designing these structures so important a feature as their protection as far as possible against burning.
Now, we hardly believe that the chief engineer, with his years of experience in fire fighting and knowledge of the details of building construction, expressed any such baldly unqualified opinion as that. However, Architecture and Building points out that as far as flimsy, cheap and insecure methods of construction are concerned, it is not the architects, but the owners, who are to blame.
“Architects,” it remarks, “would in every case prefer to have the buildings designed by them of fireproof construction, but invariably find themselves obliged to curtail expenses to meet the views of their clients. When the (uptown) Stewart Building was erected we believe that fireproof construction was virtually unknown, and it was not until about 1870 that the lime of Teil blocks were introduced. Since then hollow clay blocks have been extensively Used, and nearly all important buildings are now constructed with iron beams and arches of hollow brick.”
In the matter of iron fronts, the objectionable features of which have long been recognized by the firemen, the architects are reported as disliking them just as heartily, if only for the reason that it is almost impossible to produce a good architectural effect with iron upon the exterior of a building, and as a matter of fact they have practically had their day and are now seldom called for by owners, who are the ones who have the say as to the cost. The architects of to-day have a full knowledge of the most improved methods of fireproof construction, but if the owners will not pay for them, and prefer to keep just within the limits of the provisions of the building laws, it is they upon whom the responsibility must rest.
THE village of Greenport, Long Island, is the proud possessor of a “ fire prophet.” So highly do the residents esteem his powers that when, about a fortnight since, he predicted a fire in a certain building, we are told the fire department “ kept constantly on the alert.” Sure enough a fire did break out in that very building on Sunday night, and burned out a small harness store and a paint shop, the preparations and readiness of the firemen enabling them to master the blaze before more harm was done.’ Far be it from us to seek to belittle the Greenport “ fire prophet’s ” fame, or to cast doubt upon his supernatural powers ; but we would suggest that a little investigation of the circumstances by the local authorities might profitably be made. A man in an Eastern city dreamt one night not long ago, that his store was on fire, and unwisely told the dream to his wife. It was on fire, but the insurance companies were not believers in dreams, and declined to reimburse him for his loss. Upon the whole, if a man receives supernatural notice beforehand, of coming fires, it is perhaps as well not to mention the fact. This is a censorious world.
THERE now seems little chance that, for the present at least, any move will be made toward establishing a paid fire department at New Orleans. After long months of investigation and discussion the special committee of the city council has made its report. It simply dodges the question at issue, which was, in effect, the choice between the present volunteer system and a fully paid force and, after dealing in a few generalities, reports various estimates of the cost of a paid department for one year, as follows : By the committee, $247,026 ; by Thos. O’Connor, chief of the volunteer fire department, $301,638 ; by L. Monrose (representing the underwriters of New Orleans), $213,214 ; by W. I. Hodgson, chairman of the city council committee on fire department, $254,589. Thus it throws the whole responsibility of taking further action in the matter upon the city council. It looks very much as if the scheme had been put to sleep for the rest of the lifetime of the present council, the members of which have nearly a year yet to serve.
Two terribly fatal railway accidents, in each of which fire played a leading part, are reported since our previous issue. At Ravenna, Ohio, an eastbound Erie vestibule train stopped for repairs to the engine, and was run into from the rear by a heavy meat train. The engine of the latter ploughed through two passenger cars and buried itself in a third, and the wreckage took fire from the lamps. About twenty of the passengers were crushed or burned to death, and thirty or so more injured. The second disaster happened on the Kanawha & Michigan road near Charleston, W. Va. A passenger train ran on a burning trestle and two cars went down to the ground, turning over as they fell. Only four persons escaped injury, the dead numbering thirteen and the injured thirty-five. It is supposed that the burning of the ties on the trestle was caused by hot cinders from a freight train which had crossed during the night; the engineer saw the smoke but thought it was mist. The first case emphasizes the need of replacing the old-fashioned oil lamps by electric lights, the practicability of which has been proved ; the second that of a more careful system of track inspection. The track walker on duty had not, owing to the length of his beat, been enabled to inspect the trestle for several hours, though upon his way to it when the accident happened. The New York Herald calls for the substitution of iron, steel or masonry construction for wood in all railway bridges ; but, under present conditions in America, this is simply an impracticable requirement.
WHILE, as recently noted, the number of permits for the sale of fireworks at retail in New York city this season was comparatively small, and the number of fires caused by explosives during the week before Independence day was inconsiderable, the fire record for that day far exceeded that of any other Fourth of July within recent years. During the twenty-four hours from midnight on Friday until midnight on Saturday, the fire department was called out fifty-eight times. Most of the alarms were for awnings set on fire by exploding fire crackers, and the flames were put out with little damage, but, taking the number of alarms into consideration and the fact that the day was clear and breezy, it is simply wonderful, and a most striking illustration of the quickness and skill with which the New York Fire Department accomplishes its work, that not a single serious fire occurred during the day, the worst causing but $1000 damage, the majority of the rest ranging below $100. The large number of outbreaks, however, points to the need of a stricter enforcement of the law prohibiting the setting oil of fireworks in the streets. The falling off in the fires on the “ Glorious Fourth ” last year and in 1889 led to laxness in that respect last Saturday, but the results show that this was a mistake.
IN a recent issue of FIRE AND WATER we quoted a statement from The Humboldt Times to the effect that the California redwood as a building material “ comes nearer being fireproof than almost any other material of which buildings are constructed.” As the flatly contradicting assertions as to the inflammability of this wood in the insurance and daily press of the Pacific Coast have been, to say the least, a trifle puzzling, for it would seem as if the question should have been long since settled, we asked for more information upon the subject. The Commercial News of San Francisco gives it to us with the preface that The Humboldt Times’ statement is “arrant nonsense.” It continues : “ The kindling wood sold by the retail coal and wood dealers of this city is redwood; it is hard to get anything else from them, a fact that alone disproves The Times’ statement. That redwood absorbs water like a sponge and that it is free from the resinous quality common to other soft woods enables it to resist fire better than pitch pine, and once ablaze the (lames are more easily extinguished from the fact that water soaks into the wood. These qualities make redwood valuable as a building material where wood must be used, but to state the wood is nearer fireproof than almost any other building material, hardly deserves the attention given in this denial of the absurd statement.” This explanation would certainly seem to dispose of the exaggerated claims made for the wood as a building material and also to explain their origin.
No fireman, however experienced, can attend the meeting of the National Association of Fire lOnffineers without jininiiiK some information of value to him In his work. The convention at .Springfield, MUHN., on August 11-14, should be attended by every progressive* chief engineer who can he spared from his post*