Building Inspection By Fire Department Members
How This Work Is Carried On by the Boston Department— Systematic Methods Adopted—Comprehensive Report Blanks Filed
BUILDING inspection by members of the fire department serves a double purpose. Besides its main object, which, of course, must be the most efficient protection of the city from fire hazards and the quick detection and removal of such hazards, there is also the advantage contained in the knowledge of the buildings and their contents which this inspection gives. With a systematic inspection by the members of the uniformed forces, including the filing of reports noting the lay-out of each building, its contents, its special hazards, and the features of interest in its construction, there is a complete record in the files of the department which enables the chief and his men to have a thorough knowledge of what they are going to be up against in case of a blaze in any building within the limits of the city.
An excellent system of this nature, carefully and efficiently carried out is that in use by the fire department of Boston, Mass., under the supervision of Chief Daniel F. Sennott. The so-called “high value district” of the city takes in the downtown retail shopping section with its hotels and department stores, the leather and shoe business, the wool warehouses, the wholesale and market district, the theatres and offices, and the waterfront along Atlantic Avenue and Commercial Street. The potential dangers of this area have been very materially reduced since the high pressure pumping system was installed with special mains and hydrants to back up and reinforce the mains supplying the ordinary post and Lowry hydrants that were formerly the sole dependence for water supply.
Some of Boston’s High Value District Hazards
There are sugar refineries and extensive wharves in South Boston and Charlestown while the lumber yards, docks, and oil plants of East Boston present an especial hazard.
The railroad freight sheds, milk depots, stables, and frame tenements of Charlestown provide what is generally regarded by fire fighting experts and engineers as a conflagration breeder. With a serious fire originating in the Rutherford Avenue neighborhood and driven by a high northwesterly wind all the resources of the Boston department would be required to prevent a disaster. Two years ago a fire in an old stable under the conditions mentioned threatened the district, but apparatus summoned by four alarms succeeded in confining the blaze.
Division of City’s Hazards Into Groups
The hazards of the city have been divided into the following groups for inspection purposes:
- Hospitals, schools, theatres, motion picture theatres, public halls, hotels, lodging houses, apartment houses.
- Motion picture film exchanges, acetylene gas manufacturers, dyestuffs. chemicals, wholesale. druggists, paints and oils, oil factories, storage of petroleum products.
- Warehouses—Hoots and shoes, leather, cotton, wool, furniture, grocery, cold storage, public storehouses, grain elevators, paper and cardboard.
- Factories—Cotton, shoe, rubber goods, candy, piano, organ, furniture, box paper, box wood, clothing, oil clothing, button, soap, sugar refineries.
- Machine shops, wood working plants, printing establishments, foundries, metal smelters.
- Bakeries, coffee and peanut roasters, smoke houses, laundries, gas houses.
- Department stores, office buildings, public buildings.
- Garages, automobile repair shops, automobile distributors.
- Electric light stations, power houses.
- Stables, rag shops, waste paper storehouses, lumber and coal yards.
- Railroad terminals, freight and passenger.
- Water-front, docks, and marine hazards.
Captain Michael J. Norton, in charge of the Boston Bureau of Building Survey and the Inspecting Division, was assigned to the command of this two-fold unit when it was organized a year ago, namely in January, 1925, to take over and enlarge the work formerly done by the Bureau of Fire Prevention and Intelligence. Since last March various forms of hazards have been surveyed and classified and more than four thousand individual inspections of buildings have been made.
The bureau staff at present consists of Capt. Norton, Patrick T. Burke, John P. Burke, Robert J. Brennan, Julius H. Cutler, Coleman C. Curran, William H. Connor, Frederick J. Cross, Edward M. Doherty, Michael P. Dempsey, William A.Gavin, Joseph D. Mitchell, Joseph A. Murray, Cornelius P. Moaklcy, Michael H. Powers, George A. Whalen, George A. West, Patrick J. Sullivan, George A. Zoph, and James J. Quinn.
There are also thirty inspectors, two in each of the fifteen districts of the city. These inspectors are privates working under supervision of the district chiefs and the reports as made out are forwarded to the office of the bureau in the fire Department Headquarters Building on Bristol Street, Boston.
The zoning and building laws are kept on file at the office and the reports arc stored in steel filing cabinets, the records being easily available, district by district. Each inspector is furnished with a special inspector’s badge. The large insurance maps of streets and buildings have been found to be valuable for the inspectors’ work.
The Building Survey Blanks
The building survey blanks contain six pages with various sub-headings and ruled lines where the required information is to be filled in by the inspector. Among the things to be noted and written down are the number of the district; date of the inspection; name of the inspector; street location and building numbers; name of owner, agent, or lessee; construction of individual and party walls; if of stone whether carved or not and if of iron whether backed up or not; the thickness of the walls and partitions; the percentage of glass windows in the wall spaces; the number of blank walls; the nature of parapets; height of walls of adjoining buildings; and the openings above the roof.
The height of the building in stories and in feet; the floor area in square feet; the roof area and covering; the number, location, and construction of dormer windows; the construction, location, size, and exposure of roof openings, are all recorded. If there is a mansard roof on the structure it must be noted whether this is open, closed, or continuous; also the number, size, and type of skylights; whether the same are screened or not, and what the thickness of the glass is.
Subjects Listed Under Headings
Other information to be supplied is as follows: Cornice, whether wood, open, boxed or continuous; gutters; extensions, construction, height, size, location, and how cut off; shutters, whether required or not and the risk of exposure; fire windows, hollow, solid, metal frames labelled or not; fire escapes, electric wires, and the high and low pressure hydrants in the vicinity.
“Personal contact with the owners, an explanation of what is wanted and the reasons for it are usually all that is required to make those responsible realize the wisdom of complying with the requests of the fire department. It is largely a matter of education and acquainting the responsible persons with the true conditions. This can be done in a tactful way.”
Under protective devices are listed automatic sprinklers, standpipes, roof hydrants, automatic fire alarms, auxiliary fire alarm, and watch system.
The blank forms provide for information regarding the roof construction, cockloft, blind attic, ceiling finish, side wall and partition finish, curtain walls, partitions, fire doors, floors, and floor supports.
Under the heading “vertical openings” there are to be recorded all floor openings, number of floors pierced, construction of shafts and protection of openings to shafts, passenger and freight elevators, stairways, light and vent shafts, well holes, dumb waiters and chutes, belt holes, other vertical openings, holes in walls, and communications with other buildings.
Next are listed the kind of lighting, power, and heating systems with the location and size of boilers and the nature of fuel used. Under “occupancy” are given the names of all the tenants and full particulars as to mixed stocks, work done, processes, materials and machinery used, number of employes, etc.
Entire Page Devoted to Faults of Management
There is an entire page of the report blank for listing “faults of management.” Under this come unsafe boilers and furnaces, unsafe stoves and forges, dangerous smoke pipes, floors unprotected beneath gas stoves, funnels and funnel holes badly placed, unsafe chimneys, steam pipes in contact with wood or other combustible matter, wooden ash receptacles, unsafe gas jets and kerosene lamps, unsafe or defective electric wiring, fire doors poorly hung or in bad condition, blocked or broken windows, blocked stairs, badly placed or empty fire pails, untidy conditions, shutters not closed, flammable liquids unsafely stored, holes in walls, accumulations of rubbish, structural and sprinkler defects.
The Man in Charge of the Bureau
Capt. Norton is one of the outstanding officers of the Boston Fire Department and has an enviable record in the service. He is efficient and well liked, being possessed of administrative abilities that make him exceptionally well fitted for the position he now holds. He was appointed as a call fireman October 10, 1885, and assigned to Hose Company No. 9 in South Boston. He was transferred to Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 on November 5, 1887. On January 6, 1888, he was made a permanent fireman and assigned to Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 on Friend Street in the down-town, north end section of the city. He acted as driver for the late Chief John A. Mullen when the latter was a district chief and he served at various times with engine Company No. 6, Ladder Company No. 3, and Ladder Company No. 5.
On August 28, 1896, Captain Norton was promoted to rank of lieutenant and assigned to Engine Company No. 43. He went from there to Hook and Ladder Company No. 20, which was the first combination chemical and city service ladder truck to he placed in operation in Boston. This was on January 7, 1898. He was made a captain in January, 1908, and assigned to Engine Company No. 5. He was transferred to Engine Company No. 21 in June of 1908 and served for twelve years as acting chief of district 9 front which he was assigned to his present position.
Captain Norton on the Bureau’s Work
“It is Fire Prevention Week for fifty-two weeks in the year with us,” said Captain Norton, in discussing the duties of his bureau. “Personal contact with the owners, an explanation of what is wanted and the reasons for it arc usually all that is required to make those responsible realize the wisdom of complying with the requests of the fire department,” declared the captain. “It is largely a matter of education and acquainting the responsible persons with the true conditions. This can he done in a tactful way so as not to create opposition on the part of the owners. I am pleased to say that I have met with hearty cooperation since taking charge of the bureau and have only found it necessary to refer a very few cases to the state fire marshal for enforcement of the laws involved.”
Jersey City Firemen Distribute Baskets to Poor—Chief Roger Boyle of Jersey City, N. J., distributed a number of baskets to the poor families of the city. This work was financed by a special fire department fund. No toys were distributed but each basket contained two chickens, potatoes, turnips, onions, butter, tea, coffee, soup and evaporated milk.
Mobile, Ala., Has Troublesome Fire—The fire department at Mobile, Ala., was called to extinguish a fire which started in the roof of a department store. The firemen were hampered by the dense smoke, and the blaze therefore had to be fought from the outside. The fire was confined to its point of origin but the two lower floors were badly damaged by water.