Blunders of Fire-Proofing.

(Written for FIRE AND WATER.)

Blunders of Fire-Proofing.


Part 3.

The standard building materials in use are brick, iron, stone and wood. Brick covers all baked clay products. Iron embraces steel and all other forms. Of these standard materials, the brick alone can be considered as possessing fire-proof properties. The others are so susceptible to heat and fire as to render them unfit for such use. The brick is a product of man’s inventive genius, an inevitable and fitting sequence to his initial scientific triumph, r. e., the arch. The brick, being a product of fire, is naturally equipped to withstand its effects. Consequently it is the only reliable fire-proof material in use at the present time.

There appears to be no other natural material available for building purposes than those of iron, stone and wood. But there may exist a possibility of developing artificial compositions, which can take the place of those natural materia’s, and, with the brick, fill out all requirements of demand of the building art, both as to economy and utility, and at the same time possess fire-proof qualities now wanting. This will be discussed as we get further along in the many blunders of fireproofism. All interested are aware that our architects and other authors of fire-proofing have been vainly trying to build fire-proof buildings with combustible or heat susceptible materials, and have failed to do so.


The sole purpose of calling attention to the defects of these efforts, is to endeavor to bend a serious strain of thought and reflection of some amongst our able minds on this important subject, knowing full well that when once the matter is properly placed under the search light of their intelligence and penetration, that results beneficial and successful will obtain. In the meanwhile, to properly attract desired attention we must hammer away with the sledge-like blows of practical fire masters on our primer lesson, viz.: Do fire-proof buildings burn ? If so, when and where ? And who says so. Here follows food for reflection.



Chicago, Dec. 5, 1892.

T. K. TINSLEY, ESQ., Kansas City, Mo.:

DEAR SIR : In the matter of fire-proofing of buildings, two distinct hazards must be considered. The internal and the external.

These buildings must be not alone fire-proof within their four walls, but also capable of withstanding the intense heat to which they might be subjected if a fire was raging in the adjoining buildings. Taking up the internal hazard. This will be governed to a great extent by the use to which the building is to be put. Whether for office purposes exclusively, for office and mercantile purposes combined, or exclusively for merchandise. These two last-named classes may be disposed of at once and for all with the statement that no style of construction and no building material have ever come under my observation which will render fire-proof a building filled with inflammable goods.

In a building of this class a fire in a room or floor filled with goods might, in a very short time, gain such headway as to seriously imperil the entire structure, by the expansion, warping and twisting of the iron or steel framework, and with such a state of facts existing 150 or 300 feet^bove the ground it would be next to impossible to do effective work.

No building to be used in part or in whole for the storage or sale of merchandise should exceed 125 feet in height, and might with advantage be much less. Before leaving the question of internal hazard I wish to call attention to the iron and steel universally used in buildings of this class. The iron colupins and other metal framework of the building should be covered at all points with a sufficient thickness of non-combustible and non-conductive material to prevent the possibility of its bending or expanding to any serious extent.

Many high buildings of this style, now being constructed, have the steel columns supporting them encased in but four inches of brick or tile; this affords practically no protection, as sufficient heat is liable to be generated to pass through the brick shell and cause the columns to expand sufficiently to displace arches, one after another, and thus bring about a collapse of the building.

As an illustration of this I may cite a fire which occurred in this city a year or two ago. A building of this description was being constructed and was up several stories, the iron work being directly against the party wall, the joists of the adjoining building were fastened to the wall with the old style strap anchor, and a fire in the building caused them to fall; the wall went with them, leaving the iron of the new building exposed. The result was that the new frame was so badly twisted and warped as to be useless.

Relative to my experience with fireproof building, I refer to the following report from one of our assistant fire marshals on the Athletic Club building, a ten story absolute fireproof system structure. The first floors being intended for stores, and the balance of the edifice for club purposes.


November 11, 1892.

D. J. SWENIE, ESQ., Fire Marshal and Chief of Brigade.

SIR : From my examination of the Athletic Club building, I consider it a fireproof building, excepting the interior finish. The fourth floor, which is 72 x 180 feet and thirty feet high, was all finished (ceiling and walls) in hardwood, and contained 50,000 feet of lumber, and it is estimated that there were from 75,000 to 100,000 feet on the different floors, which made lots of material to burn.

The place where most damage is done, is on the fourth floor, which was all open and had material to burn.

The iron columns are exposed where the tiling fell off, and the girders are warped out of line. The tile ceiling on the fourth, fifth and sixth floors is badly damaged and dropping down, as it dries out. The warping of the iron girders and the falling of the tile partitions from the heat, and the damage to the stonework on the front of the building, which is badly chipped, will make the principal loss to the building.

If the building was not so nearly fireproof, with such a start as the fire had, it would have all come to the ground. If the building had been heavily loaded with combustible merchandise and burned for a considerable length of time, it would have been destroyed on account of the expansion and contraction of the iron work.”

This was a very severe test, as the building was incomplete, open, and filled with inflammable materials.

Yours truly,

D. J. SWENIE, Fire Marshal.

No posts to display